Oct. 23, 2016 – California’s Prop 60: Condoms, porn and a threat to sex workers

In California, a ballot initiative for public health or a potential weapon against sex workers?

By Christopher MacNeil

Freelance blogger

California voters will be asked Election Day if performers in XXX adult films should be forced to wear condoms during intercourse and if film producers and models can be sued by porn watchers if they don’t.

Proposition 60 – formally titled the Safer Sex Adult Film Industry Act – is confined to the Golden State in that the law, if approved by voters, has jurisdiction only over productions made within the state.

Along with mandating condoms and exposing performers who don’t comply to civil prosecution, other provisions of Prop 60 require porn producers to be licensed by the state and open to fines anywhere from $1,000 to $70,000 for any violations. Producers would also have to foot the cost for vaccinations, tests and monitoring of sexually transmitted diseases. Two provisions speak to the threat of action: anyone with a “financial interest” in a porn film can be held liable for violations, and witnesses to violations could sue filmmakers if state officials don’t act promptly on a complaint.

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The initiative has influential advocacy – at least on a public relations level. Its chief sponsor is the Los Angeles-based AIDS Healthcare Foundation and its founder and president, Michael Weinstein. In comments to the Hanford (Calif.) Sentinel, Weinstein explained the bill as “ …extend(ing) the same kind of protection to sex workers as the state already grants hospital employees and others in professions that expose them to infectious diseases.” According to the Sentinel, Weinstein and his group have spent more than $5 million to promote Prop 60, not counting costs to enforce it if enacted into law.

Prop 60 also has the apparent support of voters who signed petitions to get the measure on the election ballot.

But is has formidable opposition: both state Republican and Democratic parties and the California Libertarian Party have all opposed Prop 60.

If opponents of the bill are outnumbered by proponents, their voices are no less passionate in their denunciation of a law they say is not needed because of self-imposed safeguards within the adult industry. More provocative is their view that Prop 60 is a weapon to harass and persecute people who are categorized as “sex workers,” people who work in an occupation that some see in the shadows of professions that are on the cusp of social acceptance and approval.

Adult film actress Ela Darling, president of the Adult Performer Advocacy Committee, told Breitbart News, “Proposition 60 creates a cottage industry of harassment where any California resident, if they watch porn and if a condom isn’t visible – even if it’s been used in the film – can take it to court.” She joined approximately 100 other adult performers at a protest of Prop 60 Oct. 17 on West Sunset Boulevard in Los Angeles while, at the same time, porn sites went dark in California and carried out a cyber strike by blocking access to IP addresses.

More vocal opponents – among them Ms. Darling and Alex Legend, a leading male performer in straight porn – challenge the very requirement for testing because performers are already mandated by the industry to submit to testing every 14 days. On the other side of the fence – gay porn – “Sgt. Miles,” who has worked both straight and gay films – also claims routine testing, almost always within days of a film shoot.

Further, Michael Stabile, spokesperson and communications director for the Free Speech Coalition, said in one interview, “ …there hasn’t been an on-set HIV transmission of the disease since 2004.”

Opponents’ critics, including Weinstein, dismiss as threats by adult filmmakers who say they may stop filming in California altogether in favor of states if Prop 60 is approved. Backers of the bill concede the state could lose incalculable millions that are generated by the lucrative porn industry but that some of those revenues could be recovered through fines and fees and reduced health care costs.

But producers who threaten to leave the state usually cite costs factors. The cost of implementing and enforcing provisions of the bill, along with the risk of fines, is too high a risk for some filmmakers.

Not surprisingly, economics are a driving force. Prop 60 comes at a time when the adult entertainment industry is fighting hard to compete with pay and free online porn. And the industry has taken a major hit: according to industry figures, online sites have inflicted a 50 percent injury to mainstream porn, down in revenues from nearly $10 billion to $5 billion a year.

Opponents of Prop 60 are critically outspoken about money spent to push the measure into law. Nearly all argue that money spent on Prop 60 is better invested in health care programs and services for California’s sick and uninsured. Others, Alex Legend one of them, see a wiser investment in social programs and shelters for homeless children, some who survive by working the streets as prostitutes and “escorts.”

If Legend’s example sounds contrived, consider that the National Center on Family Homelessness found in 2014 that nearly 2.5 million American children were homeless at some point the year before and California accounted for 20 percent of them. Dig deeper into that statistic and you find that 40 percent of homeless kids in Los Angeles are LGBTQ, tossed into the streets by parents and families because their children are not heterosexual.

Other voices question the intent of Prop 60, including some civil rights groups, libertarians and performers. Theirs are the profound voices that challenge innuendoes of persecution, harassment and constriction of even minimal basic rights that acknowledge and respect workers in the sex trade. Basic human rights for the sex workers are being advocated by Amnesty International in a bold call on governments around the globe to decriminalize sexual relationships between consenting adults. In August of last year, the organization announced further a consultation to develop a global policy to protect the basic human rights of workers in sex industries.
Denial of those basic rights is at the crux of the most vocal of Prop 60’s denouncers.

If enacted by voters, Prop 60 could have national implications. Other states, especially those to which adult filmmakers head if they abandon the nation’s most populous state, could impose similar laws.

On its surface, Prop 60 posits a noble and worthy goal to protect public health and even workers in the sex industry. On critical examination, however, Weinstein – chief architect of the measure – may have disclosed a significant provision of Prop 60 that hints at discrimination. The bill, Weinstein contends, provides sex workers the same health protections that are already in place in more traditional settings like hospitals, health clinics and doctor’s offices. But they, unlike workers in adult entertainment, are not threatened with legal action if they fail to comply with the law.

Is Prop 60 a government attempt to protect public health and even workers in the adult entertainment trade, or is it a guise for government intimidation, harassment and dehumanizing of people who work in a trade that some might condemn? California voters will answer Nov. 8.

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