I am a cast member of the show 8 Minutes. It was a project that, although flawed, I do not regret being a part of. In light of the cancelation and very public controversy, I believe there is a lot for everyone to learn that can help us all become better at what we do to fight human trafficking. I know that I learned a lot, so I would like to share 5 things that I took away from this experience.
1) People want their idea of help.
Many who ask for help have their own perception of what that will look like. Someone who is in need of money, a car, a house, will interpret offers of help as those things. The reality is, when those things are given it is more harmful than helpful because it is enabling and not empowering. Housing, transportation, legal, psychological, and work needs are all present, but those needs can be met in an empowering way. This is where communities come in to aid survivors by banding together to help them with rides to work, help cover medical bills, find a victim centered and informed lawyer and judge who might show compassion, and if there is no designated bed available empower a home with space to become a host/foster home while survivors work on themselves to get back on their feet. That is empowering because it gives survivors the tools to take back control of their own lives. Handouts enforce a mental state of self-pity and confirm the fear “I can’t do this.” Empowerment says, “Yes I know it is hard, but we are going to do our best to set you up to succeed because we truly believe in you. In the end, it is your choice.” Empowerment infuses dignity and worth. In hindsight, when offering “help” or “services” we, advocates and service providers, need to spell it out clearly so the survivor understands the definition of “help” and/or “resources” by the providers understanding. Then both parties will be on the same page and success rates for everyone may even rise.
2) Lack of resources is due to lack of funding or proper fund use.
In the context of the show, the advocates were made aware of what specific resources were available within the Houston, Texas area. We understood that it was our job to give women the opportunity to access the resources available, but that is where our job ended. We could not be advocates and resource coordinators for 41 women simultaneously. As difficult as it was, we had to trust the production team to handle those things well. It grieves us to hear that there were hiccups in that system that resulted in women feeling like they had fallen through the cracks, been lied to, or taken advantage of. Those results were far from our hearts and intention. That being said, we also understand the lack of resources available also means that what resources are available will not mesh with every survivor. Everyone has a unique story resulting in a variety of needs mixed with all types of personalities and preferences. It is impossible for resources agencies to comply with such a wide variety, thus resulting in some women rejecting all options because they do not feel like it is a good fit. That is ok, but unfortunately that puts everyone back at square one with an exhausted list of resources that do not work. Generally the only solution is to relocate, but not all survivors are willing to do so nor are there funds available to make such a transition. Instead, we see a lot of office expansion and awareness campaigns of organizations that are not reaching out to this population. Prevention is incredibly important, but what is the use if we are not going to help the people we are advocating for? We need more homes funded, resource centers open, and communities empowered to utilize what is already established to rally around the needs of survivors. I understand that it takes time to develop resources. That is why it is important for communities to start banding together and getting creative with what and who is already available to help support survivors and established organizations.
3) The most effective approach is a united one.
At this moment, there are too many people with the same heart to see the broken, vulnerable, and hurt free, restored, and empowered. Yet those same people allow ego, agenda’s, and money to stand between them and the plethora of needs for survivors. Although good practices are important, many get caught up on personal preferences concerning resourcing rather than agreeing to disagree for the greater good to help survivors. The most important thing is not who has the best program, but rather that the needs of survivors are getting met. Truthfully, it does not matter how that happens! Not everyone needs a “program,” but everyone needs love, direction, and a community dedicated to their empowerment, healing, and success. That could be as simple as 20 people sharing the load of the needs of a survivor by finding a host home and delegating out the many needs of that survivor to provide for a doctor, dentist, therapist, lawyer, education, job training, mentoring, financial advising, and the most important of all, healthy friendships. Truthfully, anyone educated in victim advocacy is capable of that, there is nothing special about a 501c3 or ministry that makes them more capable of caring for the needs of survivors. Everyone has apart to play, and this fight against exploitation would be more effective if we all took our position on a team rather than playing king of the hill. When a team scores and begins celebrating, it is about the team, not the individual player. The most united teams are the most successful, and they celebrate one another. When someone excels in a skill or creatively accomplishes a goal, the entire team runs to that person in celebration. High fives are given, not slaps in the face of criticism and judgment. Even if other players would have made a move differently, the goal was made within the legal parameters of the game. In the end that is all that matters. We may not always have the same mind, but we all have the same heart. Together we could make a significant impact if we let our thoughts sink to the back and hearts lead.
4) There is much education needed within media.
The topic of re-exploitation has come up surrounding the decisions of the 8 Minutes production team. To the advocates knowledge, all women were informed that they had been filmed and given the choice to release that film to the use of A&E for the purpose of a show that would educate the public about the realities of “the life.” To our knowledge, they were given the option to also release their voice, face, or only release the footage but not release those things. We cannot personally comment on how clear those specific things were explained to the women involved, or whether we agreed on the timing of those forms being presented and signed. The greater problem is actually what the media is currently doing to the survivors featured on 8 Minutes right now. It is one thing for the media to contact survivors who are being publicly vocal, but it is an entirely different situation when reporters are hunting down women who are trying to recover and reclaim their lives and do not wish to be contacted, all for the sake of a story. The difference between current media and the 8 Minutes production team is that there was purpose in it. The heart behind our request for permission to promote their story was for the use of educating the public in a manner that stirred compassion, empathy, and a new perspective on people in “the life.” That is something that we did accomplish. Thanks to the willingness of those women, many people who heard their stories were able to self-identify and request help. The purpose of current media is strictly for entertainment, and therefore is exploitive. The current media is not the only one’s guilty of this though. Any survivor leader in the movement can share their re-exploitation stories by organizations and ministries seeking to manipulate the public with a sad story at the personal cost, financially and psychologically, of the survivor for the sake of raising funds or support with little, if any, compensation. The women on the show were at least given the indicial funds promised and compensated for their time and use of their story. We all must be more aware of our motives and how they affect people. More good should be done than harm, and respect must be paid to the population you are working with in the use of verbiage and appropriateness.
5) Nothing is perfect. We are all learning and fighting for the greater good.
It truly does not seem to matter how many years of experience one has under their belt, no one has found a way to reach out to exploited populations that is perfect. Everyone in the movement is learning, and no one has the answer. We do not believe there is one tactic or best way, nor do we believe that the tactics of 8 Minutes are superior to any others. Like most who approach a need, they problem solve and come of the best conclusion at that time given the knowledge they have then. Many have criticized, yet few contribute to the furthering of outreach education and refining of practices. Many seem to be expecting perfection, which is unrealistic and a crippling way to operate. Nothing will ever get done if we are operating under the expectation of perfection. Perfectionism also causes us to miss the positives and solely focus on the negative. It is like looking at a blank white sheet of paper with a dime sized black dot and only seeing the dot rather than all the positive white space. Reality is, we planted seeds of hope in 41 unexpecting women. The greater majority of those women who accepted resources are doing very well. We educated 500,000 homes who may have never heard of human trafficking before. The results of that are eyes being opened to the needs of survivors and the actual survivors themselves being able to self-identify and reach out even after the completion of filming. That is why I choose to be a part of the show. Flaws and all, it was still good and had a great impact.
In regard to any accusations or questions concerning specific survivors that we assisted but do not express feeling helped. Please go to www.8minutesexposed.com for more information and reach out to local Houston, Texas advocate Kathy Griffin founder of “Been There Done That” who we referred survivors to as their local advocate. For interviews and questions directed toward Lexie please email firstname.lastname@example.org