In the face of increasing media interest and consistent pressure from sex worker activists, A&E has deleted the website for 8 Minutes from its site and pulled the next episode, which was scheduled to air this Thursday night. Tits and Sass left a message with the show’s publicist (and even spelled out the name of this blog), so if they choose to reply we will update this post. (Edit: the website has re-appeared sans video.)
On Sunday, reporter and sex worker activist Alana Massey spoke to On The Media about the A&E docudrama in which cop-turned-pastor Kevin Brown tries to convince sex workers to leave the business by offering them help getting out. The show is pure artifice. Supposedly, Brown poses as a client, calls workers to make an appointment, and then once they are in the room (outfitted with hidden cameras, Brown wearing a clumsy earpiece to communicate with his “team”), he has 8 minutes to make his case. In reality, the show was scripted, and producers identified themselves to workers to explain the setup and offer them compensation at filming. The premise was as much a sham as the offer of help, which took the form of phone numbers for counseling centers and hotlines rather than housing and job assistance.
Before the show’s premiere, Massey wrote about the show for the New Republic. “Any attempt to coerce them out of sex work in the absence of viable work alternatives is an invitation to starve.” In her On The Media appearance, she said that everything that sex workers had been saying about the show had proved true: Not only did it further an unhelpful and sensational narrative that all sex workers were victims, it failed to actually come through with meaningful help for those who wanted to leave the business and possibly put them at higher risk of arrest.
It’s not yet clear what prompted A&E to pull 8 Minutes, but a short timeline of events would start with Kamylla, the first woman to speak publicly about the show’s treatment of its subjects, getting in touch a few weeks ago with Massey and other community members who had been outspoken in their opposition to the show. We posted a summary of Kamylla’s story last Monday. In the time since then, two of her fundraising campaigns were closed down but a third is still up as of now. On Tuesday, Death & Taxes published a story about Kamylla. A Daily Dot story appeared on Thursday. Yesterday afternoon, a representative from the network refused comment about the show to Buzzfeed, saying that the show was no longer on the air. By this morning, A&E had pulled the show from their website. Now an error message shows where the episodes were streaming, and an attempt to go to the 8 Minutes subsite redirects to the site’s main page. TV Guide still shows a listing for the next episode, titled “13 Years Sold,” but on A&E’s site it has been replaced with a repeat of The First 48.
When the show was first announced in December, sex workers were vocal in their opposition to the premise and execution of the show. 8 Minutes coming off of the air vindicates them, but the women who appeared on the episodes that aired are just beginning to deal with the effects of their exploitation by Kevin Brown, producer Tom Forman, and A&E. The show is cancelled, but their stories are still in progress.
UPDATE 3:48 p.m. The site for 8 Minutes appears to be back up at aetv.com, but the video content is still unavailable.