Beware the “rescue” industry

A “rescue” operation that has no idea who it’s actually rescuing sounds like the start of a bad Hollywood film, right? It’s the reality for sex workers though, who have to navigate these moralizing agencies with no clue or care for their material conditions. It’s “stop helping me” writ large. Sex workers generally agree that the most effective and achievable way to make them safe is to permit labour organizing, but proponents of the much-vaunted “Scandinavian model” undermine that by criminalizing their customers and banning sex worker collectives. Instead, you get a cottage industry of 12-step programs with little conclusive evidence as to their effectiveness essentially receiving a pipeline from criminal court.

Mike Ludwig has a lengthy expose on one such rescue program in Houstan, Texas.

Griffin is currently under fire from sex worker and human rights advocates who say her tough-love, one-size-fits-all approach is flawed and fails to respect basic human dignity. People who are arrested for prostitution are not necessarily poor and dependent on drugs, and so-called “rescue-and-recovery” operations that lump sex workers in with victims of sex trafficking have lead to human rights abuses across the globe. Many activists say Griffin’s habit of thrusting her clients into the limelight, whether in the local and national media or at PR events for the former sheriff’s mayoral campaign, isn’t just manipulative, it’s dangerous.

Back at the meeting, there’s a pause as Griffin invites a group of observers to the front of the room. They introduce themselves as a local television production team that Griffin has hired to make a TV show about We’ve Been There Done That. A member of the team explains that the show will follow the women through their journey to recovery. Everyone is welcome to appear on the show, but participation is not mandatory. Griffin, who has appeared on “Dr. Drew’s Life Changers” and a Jerry Springer spinoff, claps her hands and chants, “Oh yeah, oh yeah” – she wants to know if everyone is interested in appearing on the show, and asks for a show of hands. Nervous glances are exchanged across the room, but almost everyone raises a hand into the air.


On the other side of town, Kamylla wipes tears from her eyes as she recalls the time she spent with We’ve Been There Done That earlier this year. She had little in common with the other women in the rehabilitation group besides being arrested and charged with prostitution. She didn’t need any tough love or drug rehabilitation; she just needed some money. The experience was “humiliating,” but it wasn’t the first time she had been humiliated by the same people who claimed to be coming to her aid.

Kamylla, who cannot reveal her real name due to legal concerns, is one of three plaintiffs suing the television network A&E and an affiliated production company over the now-defunct reality television show “8 Minutes” for breach of contract, fraud and other complaints. The following reporting is based on the legal complaint against “8 Minutes,” which was recently filed in a Houston court, and interviews with Kamylla and activists who were in contact with her in the months following her appearance on the show.

“8 Minutes” featured Pastor Kevin Brown, an ex-cop whose California-based Christian ministry includes missions to rescue women from the sex industry. Reports indicate that these missions rarely lead to successful “rescues,” but Brown was able to land the leading role on the reality show based on his supposed success in the anti-trafficking field. In the show, Brown travels to Houston and poses as a client or “john” to meet with sex workers and “possible victims of sex trafficking” in hotels, where he claims to have eight minutes to convince them to quit the sex business before a potentially violent sex trafficker lurking nearby could catch wind of the situation and put everyone in danger. With the clock ticking, Brown’s team offers the women “a way out” of “the life” with resources such as a safe place to sleep, health care and educational, employment, legal and rehabilitative services. At least, that’s what they said on TV.

Read more here.