Soapbox

Prop. 60 is needed to protect the health of porn actors

Proposition 60 would strengthen workplace safety rules requiring adult film performers to wear condoms.
Proposition 60 would strengthen workplace safety rules requiring adult film performers to wear condoms. Sacramento Bee file

Proposition 60 is a workplace safety measure to protect young performers in the porn industry who are now routinely and illegally exposed to sexually transmitted diseases. The callous mistreatment of these often socially marginalized young men and women employees by their bosses has gone on for too long.

Proposition 60 will give state health officials more tools to enforce an existing law requiring condoms be worn in adult films to protect performers. The law is based on regulations formulated in 1992 by federal health professionals. Cal/OSHA, the state’s worker safety watchdog, interpreted these regulations to require condoms in porn films.

But porn producers systematically disobey these rules. They say their consumers don’t want condoms in porn films. With their profits at stake, producers make it clear to performers that there’s no room in the business for those who want to protect themselves with condoms. Pretty outrageous.

The consequences of disregarding these health risks are disturbing. At any time, one in four performers has a sexually transmitted disease. Studies show performers are 34 times more likely to contract chlamydia and 64 times more likely to contract gonorrhea than their peers.

Every major medical and health group – including the California Medical Association and the California Nurses Association – supports mandatory condom use to protect the health of performers and of the wider public (performers have an off-camera sex life, too). Health professionals say only condoms can protect performers against all STDs.

Cal/OSHA has enforced the mandatory condom law since 2004 and filed more than two dozen successful civil complaints against production companies. But too often the industry has used loopholes to evade prosecution.

Proposition 60 strengthens Cal/OSHA’s enforcement tools by holding porn distributors as well as producers liable and by easing rigid statute-of-limitation rules. It would also require employers to pay for treating performers infected at work and pay for vaccinating workers against penile, anal and cervical cancer.

Emulating similar provisions found in civil rights and environmental law, Proposition 60 would also allow private citizens to sue porn violators if Cal/OSHA declines to do so.

Our opponents have put on display a number of porn performers opposed to Proposition 60. But look closely and you’ll find many of these performers are small-time producers themselves. Like the big producers, they don’t want Proposition 60 interfering with their profits. Our opponents boast of their support from political groups. But whom do you trust to deal effectively with a public health problem? Politicians or doctors?

And they claim California has only 2,000 porn performers, so what’s the big deal? Wrong. Porn industry turnover is immense, and the real number is much higher.

California’s compassionate and fair-minded voters should ensure that the young, marginalized performers in the adult-film industry receive the same workplace safety protections that millions of other California workers now enjoy. Proposition 60 does that.

Gary Richwald is former director and chief physician of the Los Angeles County sexually transmitted disease program, signed the official ballot argument in favor of Proposition 60 and wrote this viewpoint on behalf of the Yes on Prop. 60 campaign. He can be contacted at gary@mylabbox.com.

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