When “help” hurts worse than none at all: 8 Minutes and “saving” sex workers.

Okay. So if you’ve been following my facebook feed or have seen other media coverage of the clusterfuck that was the television show 8 Minutes, you already know the basics. But here’s a synopsis.
A show called 8 Minutes was planned for A&E, focusing around an anti-trafficking former cop and current pastor who believes that he has 8 minutes with a sex worker he books to convince her to let him help her leave the life before her pimp catches on, endangering her life and the pastor’s. Assumption being that she’s always a trafficking victim who is there unwillingly, and who has never imagined she might do anything else.
Since before it aired, sex worker activists were concerned: this type of attitude bears little connection to reality and assumes a link between sex trafficking and sex work that erases the presence of consensual sex workers and nonviolent economic/systemic coercion, in favor of xenophobic and racist visuals of foreign and/or black pimps/managers/owners preying on vulnerable young innocent white women, or submissive, silent Asian women. Even the promo images showed a slender, young white woman with her face blurred (which they didn’t do for a number of the women on the show), to prey upon “it could be your DAUGHTER” fears, erasing the presence of non-binary, LGBT or trans sex workers (Calling out trans specifically, because many trans sex workers face challenges that other cis-appearing sex workers might not), sex workers of color, any and all intersections of both, as well as implying a “helpless” dynamic through her youthful appearance and perceived fragility.
These images and the cultural shorthand they evoke champion policies that force a lot of innocent sex workers as well as sex trafficking victims into the criminal justice system, and hurt all sex workers and sex trafficking victims alike. But worse yet, it exposes a core problem in the way that outsiders approach the proposition of helping sex workers.
See, what this pastor did, according to several of the show’s participants, wasn’t to help the desperate sex workers/ “trafficking victims” involved… it was to mislead them about the extent of the aid available, out them on national TV by failing to blur their face, and link them to lists of services they’d already exhausted as “compensation” for wrecking their lives, despite earlier promises to provide concrete aid. Much has been written on this, and a lawsuit is in progress on behalf of three workers whose lives were upended by this practice, to negative effect. The production company that made the whole thing happen is declaring bankruptcy to avoid financial repercussions. But another vile facet rarely discussed is how 8 Minutes let down the general public, as well as the people caught in its net. 8 Minutes framed the sex workers who agreed to accept their assistance as trafficking victims, thus perpetuating misleading myths about sex trafficking to the general public. Workers were approached in advance, and some were brought to the appointment by friends or partners, who were falsely portrayed as their pimps or traffickers to confirm the Good Pastor Brown (all sarcasm intended)’s claim that they were trafficking victims controlled by violent pimps. This is pretty par for the course when sex workers or trafficking victims who don’t consider what happened to them trafficking seek help. Many organizations require the person to label themselves a victim, even when they do not feel that label is accurate, or beneficial. And this mentality is at the core of why some jurisdictions have relabeled the courts that hear prostitution charges trafficking courts, instead. Positioning themselves as helping the people who come through the court…. with the same incarceration and threat of legal repercussions as before, but with an added dose of “self-esteem boosters”.
This is what happens when we don’t  listen to sex workers who want to get out, and trafficking survivors. Because this behavior benefits neither, and any of them could tell you that. Raising “awareness” through publicity stunts like this show comes on the backs of the people they’re trying to help. The truth becomes meaningless, as do the lives of the people they’re targeting to aid. Because what those people want or need isn’t relevant- only their savior’s cause, that elusive awareness that we somehow don’t have, despite billions of dollars and dozens of high-profile shills.
The way to help someone isn’t misleading them into burning the bridge into the one option they had, and telling them you’ll pray for them when you won’t offer real help, as Brown did to Kamylla, one of the sex workers suing Relativity Media. Or demanding they volunteer for the political candidate who pays your budget and gave you the In to “help” them to stay out of jail and have a better chance of returning to their family, through influencing their hearings in court, as Kathryn Griffin’s “We’ve Been There Done That” diversion program- another friend of the show- does.
It’s shitty human behavior of the worst kind. It’s fraudulent, and it shows a reckless disregard for others’ safety. It’s inappropriate professionally, ethically, morally, or any other term you can think of that we use to compartmentalize our behavior.
Yet people do this to marginalized and disadvantaged people all the time, in the name of “saving” them from their bad choices. To some, it’s better to wreck a prostitute’s life than to let her whore around as her own choice.
In what way is this behavior Christian, spiritual, or even decent human behavior?
And in what way is anyone served having a general public that’s been repeatedly mislead about the nature of a problem, to raise money for the organizations trying to “raise awareness” or solve it?
To help Kamylla, one of the 8 Minutes victims, who is still unable to get a job with a fraudulent prostitution charge on her record, donate here.
To view sex worker reviews on rescue organizations, and charitable organizations offering help, check out Rate That Rescue.

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