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Porn Industry Figures Clash Over Safety Issues

June 05, 2004|Caitlin Liu | Times Staff Writer

Public health officials and porn actors packed into a Van Nuys auditorium Friday to speak out on sex-movie safety issues and clashed over whether condoms ought to be required during filming.

During the four-hour hearing called by Assemblyman Paul Koretz (D-West Hollywood), some of the sharpest disagreements were between people in the porn industry.

Though several industry representatives warned that mandating condoms could drive production companies underground or out of state, others pleaded for more government protection of performers' health.

"I don't think the threat [of companies fleeing California] is as real as we perceive," said producer Adam Glasser, star of Showtime's reality show "Family Business," to applause by actors in the audience. "The No. 1 priority should be the safety of the people who are working."

But porn actress Nina Hartley said a condom law wouldn't work because "it would be unenforceable." If performers wish to use condoms, she added, they can always "say no" to productions requiring unprotected sex, even if it means forgoing work.

Koretz scheduled the public hearing after the Assembly's Health Committee last month set aside for further study a proposed law, which would have required porn performers to use condoms during sex scenes and undergo regular HIV testing. The assemblyman said he would take information from the hearing to propose policies for the industry.

But the sex-film business may be covered already by existing state regulations. Cal/OSHA requires employers to provide "barrier protection" for employees whose skin, eyes or other mucus membranes are exposed to blood or other bodily fluids that can carry pathogens. In the case of the porn industry, that could mean condoms.

"If we find violations ... citations will be issued," said Vicky Heza, deputy chief for enforcement for Cal/OSHA.

However, the agency has authority only if actors are deemed employees and not independent contractors. Industry insiders say the majority of performers probably would be considered contractors because they are hired on a job-by-job basis. Several speakers compared the sex-movie business to other industries, such as farming or mainstream Hollywood productions, which are governed by health and safety laws.

"Just as we would not allow a construction worker to be on a work site without a hard hat, we should not allow an adult film industry worker to have a high-risk sexual encounter as part of their work without a condom," said Dr. Jonathan Fielding, director of public health for the Los Angeles County Department of Health Services.

Others warned that any effort to regulate the industry would drive production out of state.

Given the state's budget problems, lawmakers probably would not want to lose the taxes paid by production companies, said Kat Sunlove, executive director of the Free Speech Coalition, a Chatsworth-based lobbying group for the porn industry.

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