A pending A&E reality show in which a former cop-turned-pastor “saves” women selling sex in hotel rooms is being called “bothersome” and “exploitative” by Melanie Matson, director of Emerson’s Violence Prevention and Response, who specializes in assisting people affected by sexual and interpersonal violence.
“It reeks of colonialism and imperialism,” Matson said in an interview December 11. “It re-creates the very system they’re trying to supposedly save people from.”
The reality show, which has a working title of 8 Minutes, according to Entertainment Weekly, follows pastor and former police officer Kevin Brown into hotel rooms, where he waits for women whose escort-service ads he responded to. Once they arrive, Brown gives himself eight minutes to convince the women to leave their high-risk lifestyles.
Matson said the issue of human trafficking—the root cause of modern-day prostitution—was ignored in an interview that 8 Minutes’ executive producer Tom Forman did this week with Entertainment Weekly.
“I imagine it will continue to be ignored in this show,” she said. “What’s happening is they’re essentially judging people and really objectifying them…just like they’re objectified by being prostituted. It’s really bothersome for me.”
Matson, who recently hosted a panel discussion about human trafficking at Emerson with a woman who survived working in the sex trade, said she is troubled that women who are “saved” in 8 Minutes are often being removed to so-called safe houses in different cities or states.
“They’re removing the person from social networks and support systems,” she said.
Publicity image for the pending A&E show 8 Minutes, which features a cop-turned-pastor who attempts to intervene with women working in the sex trade industry.
Matson said she has numerous other issues with the pending television show, saying it ignores the fact that many people—including men and transgender people—who work in the sex trade, either willingly or unwillingly, experienced some form of child abuse or early trauma.
“That doesn’t just leave a person,” she said.
“Why does the show only focus on women?” Matson asked rhetorically. “This connects with our country’s history of women’s agency and decision making being controlled by others, whether it’s pimps or TV producers.”
Matson said the show places women in “incredibly dangerous” situations, while outreach organizations that successfully help people who worked in the sex trade empower them toward a better life.
“[Organizations help by] giving people agency and by asking, ‘What do you need? How can we help?’ Rather than thinking that this is what people need and imposing that,” Matson said. “[The show] goes back to our country’s history of colonization, when one group of people decided what we thought was best for Native Americans or African Americans.”
If you or someone you know needs help escaping the sex trade, call the National Human Trafficking Resource Center at 1-888-373-7888.
Organizations in the Boston area dedicated to helping human trafficking survivors include: