Earlier this spring, the Miami New Times published two articles about a teenage runaway who posed as a then-nineteen-year-old stripper from Nevada for Internet porn giant Reality Kings. According to news reports, last year the then-fifteen-year-old stole the identity of Tyler Chanel Evans, who had helped her out only to have her identification card — and her entire identity — stolen. The runaway delinquent then proceeded to rack up a criminal record using Evans' name, causing the victim to be arrested several times for crimes she did not commit.
To make matters worse, the teenager, under the stage name Bieyanka Moore, starred in a pornographic video for Reality Kings' sub-site, Cum Fiesta. Although the fake ID and other information Moore provided was intricately created and succeeded in fooling the company's ID verification system, which witnesses have stated is well within compliance of the law, the girl's mother has nevertheless filed charges including the making of child pornography against Reality Kings. (The video was pulled the same day it was originally uploaded, after a tip from an anonymous source who recognized the girl from a missing persons photo.)
The case of an underage performer is but one of the most recent examples in an industry that has demonstrated an incredible amount of neglect toward "talent". Last October, ABC News reported that yet another actor tested positive for HIV, prompting a temporary shutdown of production until costars could be informed and more tests done. It was the latest in a string of high publicity HIV scares that have cropped up within the last decade. Performers in the porn industry have higher overall statistics of HIV and other STDs in America, largely from laxness in practicing safer sex habits including the use of condoms. What's more, the industry is infamous for pressuring female talent to "augment" their breasts with implants. One web site that came up during my research seemed to positively promote implants as a career-booster. But as Fox Noise Channel sensationally reported back in January, a German porn actress died on the operating table during her sixth implant surgery!
These and other abuses have led one porn performer to mount a campaign for sex workers' rights. Another has launched her own personal crusade to inform people about the abuses and "rescue" fellow performers. The pandemic of STDs including HIV has become such that the Los Angeles Times reported late last month that Adult Performer Health and Safety Services (APHSS) is trying to revive a database of porn performers with STDs to provide industry workers with information they can use to help protect themselves from transmission of these very preventable diseases. Jenna Jameson's book, How to Make Love Like a Porn Star, was quoted in an anti-pornography blog that gave twenty-five reasons not to go into porn.
The porn industry, like any other, puts profit above the well-being of the people who work for it. Human beings are treated as resources to be exploited, degrading them in ways that often dehumanize them. But it doesn't have to be this way. There are things the industry can and should do to ensure the safety of its workers. Among them are:
1.) Improve age-verification methods so that it is more difficult for underage people to get into the industry. As the Reality Kings scandal proved, two forms of identification may not be enough. Three or four forms of ID, including a certified copy of one's birth certificate, can help reduce the influx of minors.
2.) Implement the mandatory use of condoms and other contraceptives to help prevent the spread of STDs, and allow performers to have tests done by certified medical facilities, such as hospitals and clinics. Make testing mandatory and have it done weekly to ensure that STDs, especially HIV, are caught early — before they can be spread to others. If condoms and other contraceptives aren't mandatory, performers should be free to decline to work with people they suspect of having STDs without fear of reprisals from directors and producers. Reprisals should be considered retaliatory just as they are when Wal-Mart, for example, threatens to fire employees for not working off the clock or for refusing to work in unsafe conditions, and subject to lawsuit.
3.) Encourage couples to work exclusively with one another to help reduce the spread of STDs, and put a more positive light on monogamy.
4.) End the practice of pressuring women to get breast implants. Women are already made to feel inadequate in society at large if their bodies aren't naturally built like supermodels. In the porn industry, it's even worse. Women should be encouraged to keep the bodies they're born with, rather than forcing them to scar themselves with bags of toxic substances (such as silicone) bolted onto the insides of their chests.
5.) Equal pay for equal work is a concept that has helped drive the feminist movement, but in porn, it is the male performers who are underpaid in comparison to women. If we're going to demand equal pay for women in every other industry in America, shouldn't men in the porn business enjoy wages that are as high as their female counterparts? This should not be taken by directors and producers to mean that women's wages should be lowered to reflect those of men — just the opposite, in fact: men's wages in the porn industry should be elevated to be equal to those of women.
6.) Discourage the use of drugs and alcohol both on and off set. Current and former sex workers, including Tanner Mayes, have described the environment on porn sets as encouraging the consumption of drugs and alcohol, often with the idea of loosening up nervous talent. If alcohol and guns are a bad combination, as every law enforcement agency and bar owner in Ohio agrees in the face of legislation allowing guns in establishments that serve alcohol, alcohol and porn can be downright devastating in the long term for performers.
7.) Allow porn performers to unionize so they can better protect their rights.
8.) Counsel newcomers to help them decide if getting into the industry is something they really should be doing. Most performers enter, do a few scenes, then leave, often failing to note that once a video is online or on DVD, it's out there for years. All it takes is one prudish employer or set of coworkers, and it can result in the loss of one's job. What's more, porn performers can be targeted for harassment by entities such as Porn Wikileaks, which ruffled a lot of feathers earlier this year by divulging the personal information of performers. Given these and other concerns, it's a good idea to make sure that people seeking to enter the adult film industry know exactly what they're getting themselves into and if they shouldn't find some other career path.
The eight suggestions listed above are not comprehensive, nor do they include all the reforms that the porn industry should implement. But they are a good step in the right direction that can help protect people from exploitation and, most importantly, protect lives.
UPDATE (30th August, 2011): Yahoo News reports that yet another HIV report has shut down production in the sex industry. This is yet another perfect illustration of why the industry seriously needs to reform its practices.