Dear Mr. Forman:
As advocates, survivors, and service providers for people impacted by the commercial sex trade, we write to share our deep concerns about the newly premiered series “8 Minutes,” that features Pastor Brown surprising women in prostitution with an intervention and asking them to decide whether to leave within an 8 minute timeframe. We are appreciative that many activists have contacted you to share their concerns. We seek to complement the advocacy that has already been done around this series, and continue to urge you to reconsider the wisdom of this show and remove it from the air.
A&E’s press release describing the premise of the show says, “the team undertakes harrowing undercover missions to offer help to women they believe may be in danger.” Let’s break that down.
“they believe” Your team, by its own admission, has no knowledge of the prostituted person who will be encountered. Your team lacks any facts to believe anything about that person. Any intervention, conversation, or strategy to talk about what you think she should do with her life is irresponsible. The “8 Minute” ambush disregards the woman’s human right to be treated in ways that carefully reflect and respect her unique, lived experiences.
“may be in danger” We take you and Pastor Brown at your word that you understand that high percentages (but not all) of people involved in prostitution report experiencing physical and sexual violence from police, customers, and/or pimps and traffickers. Many report threats to themselves and their children, or even gang rape to control them. These threats should never be a tag line to attract audiences. They are real to those hearing them, and generate real terror. The premise of the show assumes that the women you are encountering, and filming, are subject to this kind of violence, by a pimp who is nearby. If that was truly the case, can you only imagine the complete terror that the prostituted person would feel when you show up with cameras rolling demanding that she make a decision in an insanely short amount of time that could end her life, or the life of a loved one?
“offer help” Please know that specialized help and support is being offered around the nation to people impacted by the sex trade. Service providers and advocates, many of whom are survivors themselves, have an intense respect for survivors’ strength and wisdom, and emphasize that survivors will shape their own identity, given the right kinds of support and resources. These services require commitment to three principles: the services must be informed by the trauma that inevitably results from repeated experiences with physical and sexual violence, which create fear and mistrust of others. The services must be designed, with input and leadership from survivors, to meet the unique needs of prostituted people, who are treated with the humanity and dignity they deserve. Finally, services to people impacted by the sex trade follow an empowerment model, one that recognizes that survivors possess the strength, resilience, and skills needed to identify and reach their goals and become leaders.
A & E’s “8 Minutes” demonstrates a willful ignorance of these national best practices – putting cameras in the faces of unsuspecting, potentially traumatized victims of violence, and demanding a decision within 8 minutes, bears no relation to “offer help.” Instead, A&E and Pastor Brown are offering more trauma, and demeaning, unrealistic, and cruel treatment to a group of people who deserve extended opportunities to build trust with others, lasting months or even years, not 8 minutes. “Offer help” means learning, in a safe environment, about what the woman is experiencing, providing options, and respecting her choices. Bus tickets to an imaginary escape and 8 minutes on TV are an offensive substitute.
Should you have questions or comments about this letter, feel free to contact Leena Saleh, communications manager, Chicago Alliance Against Sexual Exploitation, at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Ann M. Williams Illinois State Representative (11th District)
Cabrini Green Legal Aid
Cheryl Jefferson Founder/Executive Producer, The Art of Influence: Breaking Criminal Traditions
Chicago Alliance Against Sexual Exploitation
Chicago Legal Advocacy for Incarcerated Mothers
Clinic Human Trafficking Project
The Dreamcatcher Foundation
ENC Stop Human Trafficking Now
The Franciscan Peace Center
Illinois NOW (National Organization for Women)
The Imagine Foundation
International Organization for Adolescents (IOFA)
JMLS Pro Bono Program
Kemery Bloom Derby Lakshmi Foundation
Mujeres Latinas en Accion
Rape Victim Advocates
Scott Waguespack Alderman, 32nd Ward, City of Chicago
The Silver Foundation
Taina Bien-Aimé Executive Director, Coalition Against Trafficking in Women
Toi W. Hutchinson Illinois State Senator (40th District)
Virginia R. Holt President, Full Circle Family Foundation
The Voices and Faces Project
Women's Resource Center