The Examiner: AHF Consultant Mark McGrath Comments on Measure “B”

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from – Should porn actors be mandated to wear condoms while performing in adult films?

This is a question Los Angeles County voters will be confronted with when they enter the voting booth Nov. 6.

Mark McGrath, MPH, AIDS Healthcare Foundation (AHF) public health policy consultant and one of the five citizen proponents of Measure B spoke to the Examiner Oct. 27 about the ballot initiative, Los Angeles Porn Actors Required to Wear Condoms Act, Measure B.

Robert Herriman: The editorial board of the Long Beach Press-Telegram, who opposes the initiative, wrote “The porn industry claims to have a relatively safe record: It says nobody has contracted HIV on a porn movie set in the United States since 2004.”

In addition, the editorial board of the San Gabriel Valley Tribune who also opposes Measure B, wrote, “Everybody wants to protect health. The question is whether the adult-film industry is a big enough threat to warrant?” So I ask, why push Measure B? Is there really a threat to the public health from the adult entertainment industry?

Mark McGrath: Measure B is the result of a long history of inadequate workplace protection within this industry. This is a legal industry and we feel with legality comes responsibility; ultimately this boils down to a question of corporate citizenship. The hazardous exposures performs face on the job are well document and reported by labs and clinics to the county department of public health (as required by state law). Therefore, we have a very good understanding of the overall disease burden performers carry and how this compares to the population at-large.

When compared to the general community the cumulative incidence for gonorrhea and chlamydia is as high as 64 and 34 times respectively. When compared to sexually active adults between 18 and 24 (a group that traditionally shows high disease burden), the gonorrhea and chlamydia rates for performers are 8.5 and 16 times higher.

Note these rates demonstrate orders of magnitude that are unacceptable from a public health perspective. Condoms are not only cost-effective but the single most effective way to prevent these infections. Los Angeles residents should care because performers do not simply live in a bubble (i.e. they can be considered core-transmitters and reservoirs). Additionally since this industry fails to provide even a modicum of benefits, the taxpayer ends up covering cost of treatment and long term medical costs.

RH: I spoke to James Lee, communications director for “No on Measure B” recently and he states that the studies proponents of Measure B site are statistically flawed.

He said, “For example, it looks at all reported infections from the industry, but doesn’t differentiate from those wanting to work for the first time, but are turned away because of infections, vs. reported infections from everyday performers.

The distinction is important because the testing protocol stops people from even entering into the profession if they tested positive. The only source of industry data is what the industry publicly reports to the County so AHF has misinterpreted that data in order to bolster its claims.” How do you respond to this claim?

MM- Data on performer morbidity has been published by Los Angeles County health officials in peer review literature. It is a matter of public record and available to anyone with an internet connection. The fact of the matter is that not only is there epidemic levels of infection within the perform community; rates of re-infection within a single year are also unacceptably high.

On average 1 in 4 performers will be re-infected with an STD in a single year. For women the rate is even higher: 27 percent will be re-infected within a single year. At a time when our frontline antibiotics for treatment are failing, is the industry’s current model acceptable or sustainable?

Opponents to measure B are simply making ridiculous claims that fail to hold up to scrutiny. The truth of the matter is that young men and women are being made sick for the sake of unrestricted profit.

As mentioned above, because labs and the clinics attended by performers are required by law to report an infection within days of diagnosis, we know: 1) the size of the performer population; 2) rates of infection; 3) rates of re-infection. Keep in mind this industry has failed to use testing protocols recommended by health officials (proper screening at all anatomical sites and vaginal swabs for women.

As a result, morbidity is under diagnosed and likely to greatly exceed the high rates described above. One study at a local clinic found the 2/3 of performers had infections missed by the industry’s current testing “protocols.” Many have active oral or rectal infections they are not even aware of.

RH: Pro-Measure B folks raise the issue of workplace safety in the porn industry. How many performers have contacted local or state officials complaining of the potential hazards of not wearing a condom during an adult film?

MM: I have no numbers on performer complaints to Cal/OSHA and Cal/OSHA does not provide this information. However, the high hazards unit of Cal/OSHA has issued well over 40 serious citations to production companies for health and safety violations.

These are a matter of public record and available for viewing at the Cal/OSHA website. For example on 3/9/2011, Larry Flint’s company was cited for 3 serous hazards. Since 2004 twenty-five performers are known to have acquired HIV. In the 2010 (Derrick Burts) investigation, only 6 of the 15 people he worked with could be cleared as not having HIV; leaving the status of 9 individuals unknown. Cal/OSHA issued citations for all the production companies located in California that employed Derrick.

RH: The most simple and important question is, why should the general public in Los Angeles County care if porn actors are wearing condoms while making their living?

MM: The general public should care because performers represent fellow citizens. They are our brothers and sisters and are working in a recognized legal industry. As a matter of corporate citizenship it is unacceptable for pornographers to harvest the young people of this Golden State, knowingly expose them to hazardous and unsanitary conditions, fail to provide cost effective protection, fail to pay for testing as required by state law, and reap a financial benefit at the taxpayers’ expense.

The public is currently subsidizing the porn industry. As the provider of last resort, county health clinics are picking up the tab for medical treatment. Condoms are for all intents and purposes free.

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