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Porn Stars Vulnerable To Trolling, Lawsuits Thanks To New Measure

The measure allows everyday citizens to sue adult film producers for creating condomless porn
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Aug 28, 2015 at 7:15 AM ET

Adult performers are speaking out against a ballot initiative that mandates condoms in porn throughout the state of California. It isn’t just the rubbers that they’re worried about, though. The measure empowers everyday citizens to sue adult film producers for creating condomless porn—and offers a financial incentive for doing so. Several industry insiders tell Vocativ that they worry this would expose them to harassment from stalkers, trolls, disapproving family members and anti-porn activists.

The initiative, which reportedly gained enough signatures last month to appear on the 2016 ballot, is similar to Measure B, a law approved in 2012 by Los Angeles County voters that requires condoms in porn, except that it applies to the entire state. The adult industry has repeatedly fought against attempts at such mandates, arguing that prolonged condom use has significant downsides, including friction burn and “micro-abrasions,” and that the industry’s bi-weekly testing routine provides better protection. While the focus of this new measure, brought by Michael Weinstein, president of the AIDS Healthcare Foundation (AHF), which has led the charge on condoms in porn, is a familiar one, it also entitles Average Joes to sue porn producers that shoot without rubbers.

It’s easy to miss the latter point. In the initiative’s 11-item list of “purposes and intent,” one brief sentence reads, “To enable whistleblowers and private citizens to enforce the Act when the state fails to do so.”

“This bill puts performers at the mercy of any citizen, including those who misjudge and scorn the adult film industry,” says porn star Chanel Preston, president of the Adult Performer Advocacy Committee. “Any person or group with an anti-porn agenda, anyone with a personal issue with a specific performer, or an overly zealous fan could use this power as a means to attack performers in the industry.”

This fear is based on past experience. “I receive harassment through social media or email almost every day,” she says.

Later in the document, there is a clause specifically stating that anyone found in violation of the condom law is “liable via… a civil action” brought by the Division of Occupational Safety and Health (better known as Cal/OSHA), a prosecutor, an “aggrieved” porn performer or—here’s is where things get interesting—“an individual residing in the State of California.” That’s right, any of the estimated 38.8 million residents of the Golden State. The only limitation placed on these citizen-led lawsuits is that a request must first be filed for Cal/OSHA to pursue the matter—but if the department declines or doesn’t respond within 21 days, or if the case isn’t pursued within 45 days, it’s fair game. If Cal/OSHA pursues the tip but then abandons it, or if the case is dismissed, it’s also up for grabs.

AHF did not respond to repeated requests for comment.

Critics of the measure argue that it provides financial motivation for everyday citizens to litigate against the adult industry. Indeed, the measure dictates that “if judgment is entered against one or more defendants in an action…penalties recovered by the plaintiff shall be distributed as follows: 75 percent to the State of California and 25 percent to the plaintiff.” It also allows winning plaintiffs to recoup the cost of litigation, including attorney’s fees. Mike Stabile, a spokesperson for the Free Speech Coalition, the trade association for the adult industry, calls it “the condom version of a porn patent troll.”

This is understandably worrisome for the porn producers targeted by the measure, but you might wonder why the initiative has adult performers upset. It’s not targeting them, right? It’s not so simple, according to the initiative’s critics. Now, the text does specifically single out “adult film producers,” but they say it would apply equally to most porn stars.

“Pretty much every performer at this point is also a producer,” says Stabile. “Performers have their own websites, they sell clips, they do webcam shows.” In other words, citizens could go after the likes of legendary porn producer Seymore Butts as well as entrepreneurial on-camera talent like Stoya. “All I have to do as a private citizen is see a performer not using a condom in a video, and I get to haul them into court,” he says.

This is concerning because it “opens up the door for stalkers, anti-porn activists, moral zealots and conservative family members to harass performers with legal impunity,” says Stabile.

Popular porn performer Ela Darling shares his concern. “‘Producer’ is so loosely defined that this bill would essentially give my stalker the right to sue me for shooting and performing in my own content with my partner for my own website, and on top of that, be paid for the pleasure of harassing me,” she says.

The initiative isn’t the only legal action currently worrying performers. Late last week, AHF subpoenaed adult performer medical records dating back to 2007 in what it says is an attempt to disprove the industry’s claim that its STI-testing regimen is sufficient—but it raised privacy concerns for many performers, some of whom worry that their private medical information, including STI results, could become public information as a result.

The measure’s critics see the ballot initiative as yet another move by AHF that harms performers while ostensibly trying to protect them. “Weinstein says he wants to protect performers, but he’s so maniacally focused on his condoms that he doesn’t bother to ask how the law would affect them, or even seem to care really,” says Stabile. “Like many moralists, Weinstein believes he has to destroy the village in order to save it.”