Relativity Media, the production company behind the sex worker intervention show 8 Minutes, relied in part on already over-burdened resources to "save" women from prostitution, the stated intent of the series. At least part of the production's plan was to refer the women to local Houston services, seven sources involved with the show's plans have confirmed to BuzzFeed News. This would have mirrored the practices of the pastor at the center of the show, Kevin Brown, who runs two intervention programs — one for gang members, and one for sex workers — that focus on "collaborating with other resources," as he said in an interview on YouTube.
"The show created a demand for services that the show was not willing to meet," Cat French, a Houston-based anti-trafficking activist who consulted briefly on 8 Minutes, told BuzzFeed News. Five sex workers who were filmed for the now-canceled A&E series allege that the production lied to them about the terms of their participation; three of those women say they were promised help that they never received.
A&E did not immediately respond to a request for comment regarding what resources these women were offered, while Relativity declined to comment. However, one of the individuals the show referred women to already has 2,700 clients, she told BuzzFeed News. Another individual tasked with helping the women is Kimberly Stapert, a clinical therapist who moved to Houston recently from Michigan; she said she was hired by the show to provide immediate mental health assistance to the sex workers.
Stapert wrote to BuzzFeed News in a text message, "It was not my role to provide concrete resources to meet basic needs, or to help women with housing and jobs. Although I did provide many of them with information and contact numbers for community based resources and organizations in the Houston area who do and are supposed to provide those resources." She said she was paid for her services only during the month of January while the show was filming; she has remained in contact with some of the women from the show on a volunteer basis.
The series heavily suggested that it would focus on helping victims of human trafficking; however, a large majority of the women the show encountered were independent sex workers, not trafficking victims, someone who worked for the production confirmed. Brown's sex worker intervention group, run by Side-by-Side Church, also focuses on trafficking victims. The former police officer described in the interview on YouTube that after being breathed on by a religious man in the early '90s, "I had this immediate love for people that I used to hate, like parolees and prostitutes. Of course now I understand they're victims of human trafficking."
But when 8 Minutes encountered mostly independent sex workers, it presented a problem, since not all of the women who wanted help would be eligible for assistance that was earmarked for trafficking victims. The source who worked on the production also said that the crew was never provided with any training on how to approach trafficking victims — the presumed subjects of the reality show.
"One of the biggest problems that we had with the crew really is just a lack of education on how to interact with that population," she said. The sex workers were "not aware of your job, and all the lingo, and the things that you know, but they also don't want to seem stupid. ... People might end up going with the flow."
Brown, who has led sex worker interventions for several years, mostly in Southern California, said in the interview on YouTube that he requires his volunteers to participate in a 16-hour training before they start doing interventions.
The crew's alleged lack of training is in line with what the show's on-camera sex worker advocate D'Lita Miller previously told BuzzFeed News: The producers ignored her when she advised against surprising women with cameras and again when she suggested that the faces of all the women should be blurred, she said.
According to the Orange County Human Trafficking Task Force, Brown's sex trafficking intervention group had its volunteer-partner memorandum of understanding revoked in December 2012 — almost a year before the publication of the Los Angeles Times article that executive producer Tom Forman said inspired the show. A representative for the task force could not comment on the specifics of Brown's ousting, but did say that the task force does not condone Brown's vigilante sex work interventions.
Kathryn Griffin, who directs programming for women charged with prostitution in the Harris County Jail and two women's prisons and has worked as a consultant for both Dr. Drew's Lifechangers and a Jerry Springer spinoff called The Steve Wilkos Show, said that she has helped several women referred to her by 8 Minutes. "I did experience some of the ladies who called me and said, 'Will you pay my rent?'" she told BuzzFeed News on the phone. "A lot of them have their hands out."
Three women — Kamylla, Gina, and Donna — told BuzzFeed News that they participated in the show in large part because they believed they would receive housing assistance; they said they did not. "They pretty much sold me a dream that was not true," Gina said.
Griffin estimated that two women from the show called her asking about rent; she could not remember exactly how many women from the show had contacted her in total, guessing maybe six or seven. She said she did not believe that 8 Minutes led these women to think that she would pay their rent; however, she also said that she does not often get calls from sex workers asking for rent money.
Griffin said that she has 2,700 clients, and her voicemail inbox fills up within five minutes. Indeed, her inbox was full both times BuzzFeed News tried to leave a message.
French, the founder and executive director of Elijah Rising, a sex worker intervention group headquartered in Houston, told BuzzFeed News she was initially interested in helping the show, but she quickly cut ties with the production company. French said that she had believed the show would be partnering directly with Elijah Rising to form an "exit pipeline" for the women who wanted to stop doing sex work. "But then, come to find out, they had cobbled together their own exit pipeline using our referral system," she said.
A representative for A&E previously said that ongoing legal and social services were paid for by the production itself, but BuzzFeed News has not been able to verify this claim: No one interviewed for this story confirmed that Relativity Media provided financial compensation for their ongoing services, nor were they aware of others receiving such compensation. Griffin said she was offered a fee but rejected it.
Kamylla, one of the women filmed for the show, provided direct messages she sent on Twitter to executive producer Forman asking for legal services to fight a prostitution charge in March. "I can't make promises regarding outcome, but of course we'll do whatever we can," he wrote to her on March 20. Three days later, Stapert informed her in a text message, "The show is not going to pay for the lawyer." Griffin ultimately found Kamylla an attorney; that attorney postponed Kamylla's court date again last week. Kamylla is still raising money to pay for an attorney and housing for herself, her husband, and her children as she awaits the court date, now set for June.
Kamylla said she also reached out directly to Brown at one point, who offered prayer but no tangible help. In the interview on YouTube, Brown said he did similar things in the 1990s when he was still a police officer; he said that the Santa Ana Police Department received complaints about him. "I knew if I laid hands on the sick, they would recover. That's what the Bible says," he explained. Brown did not respond to a request for comment.
French said she still has "a warm spot in [her] heart" for Brown, who trained her and her colleagues at Elijah Rising in the procedures of sex trafficking interventions. "But he went off the goddamn rails," she said.
Gaye Dalton brought the YouTube videos to BuzzFeed News' attention.
Ariane Lange is an entertainment reporter for BuzzFeed News and is based in Los Angeles.
Contact Ariane Lange at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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