Porn Star Case Puts New Focus On Condom Law

Saturday, 31 Aug 2013, 9:00:00 AM

Tom Elias

Thomas B. Elias, Columnist
Santa Monica Mirror Archives
Thomas B. Elias, Columnist

No one knows for sure just how things will go, but a new law passed last year in California’s largest county to force condom use in pornography films and videos will at least be tested this fall.

It’s about time, too, as evidenced by the late August revelation from adult film actress Cameron Bay (the stage name of a 28-year-old woman) that she’s tested positive for the AIDS virus less than a month after her last previous, negative test finding.

The Los Angeles County law mandates protection in all forms of sex except manual and oral – something the industry strongly maintained would make its films less attractive and drive much of its $13 billion gross revenue out of California. That figure compares with about $22 billion for conventional movie-making in this state, and $37 billion for agriculture.

So far, there has been no significant exodus and there’s now a strong possibility the law will be taken statewide. The San Fernando Valley portion of Los Angeles remains the world capital for adult filmmaking, with some shoots in nearby areas and counties.

Any shifts were in abeyance until late this summer, awaiting a decision from U.S. District Judge Dean Pregerson on a lawsuit by porn producers which claimed the law infringes on constitutionally protected free speech.

Nope, Pregerson finally ruled. The new law, he said, would prevent health risks and “alleviate those harms in a direct and material way.”

How great were the risks behind the law, which passed as Measure B? No one can pinpoint just how much higher than normal the rates of AIDS and other sexually transmitted diseases are among porn actors, but porn star Jenna Jameson last year called the business a “ticking time bomb.” It certainly was for “Cameron Bay.”

It’s still uncertain that Pregerson’s ruling will let Measure B have the full intended effect. While he allowed the basic law to stand, he tinkered with parts of it – maybe enough to let pornographic filming go essentially unchanged.

Yes, the judge allowed mandatory AIDS testing of porn actors to stand. He said the county can charge producers for health permits, obtain warrants to inspect production sites and levy fines and criminal charges against violators

But at the same time, the ruling says health permits cannot be required as a condition of making a film, nor can the county revoke permits or stop filming because of violations. And officials cannot inspect a film site merely because they suspect condoms are not being used.

So the decision can be seen as a big wink at porn producers. If they establish an informal code of secrecy, sheriff’s deputies or other enforcement personnel won’t often be able to come on site. To get a warrant, they would need more than mere suspicion or innuendo.

Chances are, the ruling means most producers will only use AIDS-tested actors, not much of a change. But there’s almost always some time between any test and the next time an actor performs in a porn scene. The Bay case demonstrates that participants can acquire diseases during those interims.

What’s more, even if large producers either get health permits or move to nearby counties, small producers whose presence is not very noticeable outside the swank homes where many porn shoots occur may not bother, figuring that as long as all participants are discreet and refrain from whistle-blowing, they won’t get in trouble. Under the radar operations will probably stay that way.

Even with those obvious loopholes in the law, the porn industry will appeal the ruling, maintaining it still limits free speech rights, another way of saying the law could crimp production and profits.

No one knows what comes next: Will production move out of Los Angeles County, as porn star James Deen predicted immediately after the law passed? Will there be at least some compliance? Might that lessen the popularity of online and DVD porn movies?

There’s a good chance there may now be at least some reduction of AIDS cases in Los Angeles County. And since the basics of the law have been upheld, some legislators want to adopt a similar one for the whole state.

Stay tuned.

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