Porn Industry Dropped Condom Policy
HIV Epidemic 'Could Happen Tomorrow' In Porn Industry
Jun 5, 2007 The Boston Globe
Distributed by The New York Times Syndicate
"Adult film performers Darren James and Lara Roxx, who were found to be infected with HIV, the virus that causes AIDS, has prompted a virtual shutdown of the sex-video industry for at least 60 days and has idled countless actors, producers, directors and crew members, many of them based in and around the suburban San Fernando Valley. Nick Manning, 36, had started work on a film on April 13 when news of the shutdown came through. Manning in 2004.
Photo: Monica Almeida/The New York Times"
Three years after an HIV outbreak rocked the San Fernando Valley's adult-entertainment industry, Los Angeles health officials say production studios have failed to maintain rigorous safety standards and are imperiling hundreds of performers.
While no cases have been reported since four adult-movie performers tested positive for HIV in April 2004, health officials say they are increasingly concerned that nearly all studios have dropped -- or never even adopted -- strict condoms-only policies.
Worried about the potential for another HIV outbreak, a coalition of public, nonprofit and academic health leaders has been lobbying state lawmakers to tighten regulations.
"The reality is, an HIV epidemic could happen tomorrow," said Paula Tavrow, adjunct assistant professor in the community health sciences department at the University of California, Los Angeles. "We have no safeguards in place to prevent that."
The 2004 outbreak prompted studios to impose a temporary moratorium on production. Amid calls for government regulation, many also required performers to use condoms during filming even though studio executives worried about a potential loss in revenue because of the restrictions. Some were concerned that condoms would ruin the on-camera aesthetic of films' sex scenes.
Today, however, industry officials say almost all studios have reverted to condom-optional policies and instead rely on periodic health screenings -- a practice their lobbyists defend as effective and comprehensive.
But Dr. Peter R. Kerndt, director of the sexually transmitted disease program with the Los Angeles County Department of Public Health, says periodic screening is inadequate.
Officials note that the male actor believed to have transmitted HIV to three female performers through unprotected sex in 2004 also had been regularly tested.
"They've totally relapsed," said Kerndt, who has provided technical support to the coalition lobbying for tighter legislation. "It's like it never happened. There's little regard and no protection for the people who work in this industry."
Kerndt said advocates, including the Los Angeles-based AIDS Health Care Foundation, have had difficulty finding a lawmaker to author tougher legislation.
Foundation President Michael Weinstein said his organization has talked with many legislators but none has signed on.
"This is a worker health-and-safety issue, a women's issue, a human-rights issue," Kerndt said. "This is the last at-risk population exposed unnecessarily to the risk of HIV and a host of other sexually transmitted diseases."
John Schunhoff, county Department of Public Health chief deputy director, said the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors and county health officials have supported efforts to make the industry safer, but so far have opted against sponsoring a bill.
"We have to pick our battles," Schunhoff said, although he noted health officials still might weigh in if there is an amended bill this session.
"If there is an opportunity of our becoming more active and to really make a difference, we'll do so," he said.
Sharon Mitchell, a founder and executive director of the Adult Industry Medical Health Care Foundation in Sherman Oaks, said condoms should be used, but mandating them could backfire.
Mitchell said "renegade" performers could just go underground and even give up the current monthly voluntary testing.
"They'll run for the hills," Mitchell said. "This is a population, you tell them to do something, and they won't do anything.
"We're not in the real world, we're in the world of porn."
Mitchell, a former adult-film star who helped launch nationwide regular testing in the porn industry for HIV and other sexually transmitted diseases after an HIV outbreak in 1998, also questioned the political will to enforce tougher regulations.
"People want their potholes filled. Who's going to pay for inspectors to sit around and watch people put on a condom?"
In the past decade, 17 adult-entertainment performers have tested positive for HIV, including two male performers who infected a total of nine women. Testing caught six others before the virus could be passed on, she said.
Tavrow -- who hosted a UCLA round table last fall on the issue with academics, lawyers, legislators' representatives, and porn producers and performers -- said a state law is overdue.
"Everyone knows from a health (perspective) this is a slam dunk, but there is just so much sensitivity," Tavrow said. "Few legislative offices see a large grass-roots constituency for it. Senators and Assembly members say, 'What's in it for me? Will this win me votes?' A lot of people are worried to be painted with the porn brush, as it were. They don't want to come out as 'Mr. Porn."'
State Sen. Sheila Kuehl, D-Los Angeles, who chairs the Senate's Health Committee, said the subject is an important workplace issue.
But she said there has been little support for tougher legislation because health officials have been unwilling or unable to do the work required, HIV activists haven't rallied behind it and hundreds of other measures compete for lawmakers' attention.
Assemblyman Lloyd Levine, D-Van Nuys, whose district office is in one of the largest porn-production clusters in the Valley, declined to comment on the issue.
Under current state code, employers face civil penalties for failing to protect employees from possible exposure to blood-borne pathogens.
But Len Welsh, acting chief of the California Occupational Safety and Health Administration, said his agency has difficulty enforcing the regulation in the porn industry because most performers are not full-time studio employees.
"We've had round-table discussions how to get at it and no one seems to have a good answer," Welsh said. "It's one of those things like immigration: Everyone agrees it's a problem, but no one has a solution."
Kerndt said the California Department of Public Health could tighten enforcement if legislators demand it.
But Matt Gray, a Sacramento lobbyist for the Free Speech Coalition, an adult-entertainment trade association based in Canoga Park, said the industry already employs reasonable safeguards for performers and notes that even condoms are not fail-safe.
Lawmakers also have little interest in opening a debate that would include First Amendment and censorship issues, Gray said.
"Only places like communist China step in and try to regulate how people have sex," he said.
Wicked Pictures in Canoga Park is one studio that has maintained a condoms-only policy.
"How do you make that decision and then unmake that decision?" Steve Orenstein, Wicked's president and owner, said of porn studios' 2004 announcement of the policy. "A bunch of companies stood up and said, 'Here's what we're going to do,' and today we're the only ones still doing it."
Vivid Entertainment, the region's largest adult-entertainment company, uses a condom-optional policy in which female performers decide whether to use safe-sex practices.
Company officials said they're comfortable with the policy because performers are regularly screened for HIV and other sexually transmitted diseases.
"The reality is that there are not many girls who request condoms and we don't look at girls who do (request them) any differently then girls that don't," said Steven Hirsch, Vivid's co-chairman. "We use the girl who best fits the part."
But Bob McCulloch, a Woodland Hills attorney who represented actor Darren James in 2004 when he tested positive for HIV, said condoms are the only way to make the industry safe.
James tested negative for HIV on Feb. 12, 2004, before performing unprotected sex acts for an adult film in Brazil. He tested negative for HIV again on March 17, 2004.
Between March 17 and April 9, 2004, he performed unprotected sex acts with 13 female partners who previously had tested negative for HIV, according to a final report published in the January issue of Clinical Infectious Diseases.
On April 9, James tested positive for HIV. Three of the women he had unprotected sex with also later tested positive.
"This is not a preventative system," McCulloch said. "It's a 'reduce your damages' system. The system currently is designed to sacrifice a small number of people who, no question about it, are going to get it, and then limit the damage.
"It's a system that has damage control, but not prevention."
The Valley Exposed: The risks of porn
BY BRENT HOPKINS, Staff Writer
06/03/2007 LA dailynews.com
READ the Daily News' full Valley Exposed coverage, including multimedia. FORUM: Tell us what you think of this special series at our Valley Exposed forum.
Blond, curvaceous and sexually adventuresome, Anita Cannibal never thought she'd have trouble finding a man.
She started dancing in strip clubs a decade ago, taking her clothes off for screaming Canadian audiences. Then she moved to the San Fernando Valley and got into porn.
Cannibal figures her job made her a million bucks over the years. She bought a house with her earnings and now uses them to finance her business studies at California State University, Northridge. She plans to become a lawyer.
But she never considered the unintended consequences of pornography.
"I wouldn't have thought that it would be a problem to get into a relationship with a guy," Cannibal said. "To have a partner in life is nearly impossible for me. The guys I've dated have these problems. They say, `You have to get out of the business,' or they get hurt, or they get crazy and they want to do everything. It's really hard."
Hard in many ways, ways not found in a new employee guide or taught in trade school. Few career counselors would suggest that a student consider a job in adult entertainment.
It can be lucrative. It can bring fame. It can be easy work.
Those factors draw young actors by
the hundreds, from high school dropouts to professionals frustrated by their choice of vocation. But along with the Coach purses, the Vegas parties and the ample amounts of sex come perils most performers never imagine.
"An 18- to 20-year-old girl, is her life ruined if she does this? Ninety percent of them, yeah," said Rob Spallone, an actor and president of Chatsworth-based Starworld Modeling. "They make their $1,000 a day, then they're out of the business and they don't have 20 cents."
`This is the worst'
At first, the money seems great. Young unknowns can come in, earn a grand for six hours of work, then do it all over again the next day. With $30,000 rolling in each month, they've soon got nice clothes and a flashy car. Flush with success, they hit the town and party. Many turn to drugs.
And when you've grown accustomed to the Cadillac lifestyle in your teens, it's hard to adjust to the Chevy budget, especially when your r sum lists porn flicks instead of a college degree.
"If I had a daughter, would she be in this? No," Spallone said. "This is the worst. They get in and say, `I'll do this six months and go back to school.' Bull. You're going back to school? You're gonna get addicted to this, to the money, to the sex."
When he got into the business in the mid-1990s, filmmakers used to ask for specific performers - the more famous, the better. Now, he says, they only ask for new, unseen talent.
This creates a difficult paradox for many young actresses: To get work, they have to perform more hard-core acts. While that pays better, it also lessens their appeal for future work and tends to shorten their career.
And in spite of the industry's attempts to police itself through regular HIV tests, Spallone says gonorrhea and chlamydia crop up regularly. So many performers contract the diseases, he said, that they've coined a term - "ping-ponging" - for the way the infections bounce from actor to actor.
"They're meteoric," said Bill "The Bear" Margold, an actor, writer, journalist and trustee of the Protecting Adult Welfare Foundation, which offers counseling and services to struggling industry members. "They come in as filet mignon, then in six months, they're hamburger. The best thing that they could be is a sterile orphan."
Margold, a huge, mustached, bushy-haired man who resembles the teddy bears that fill his office, is fond of bold pronouncements. Orphans have no parents to grieve over their career choice, he reasons, while sterility prevents later regrets when a family replaces a porn career.
He helped create PAW in 1994, after the suicide of actress Shannon Wilsey, better known as Savannah. Though he passionately defends the industry, he simultaneously steers away prospective talent he deems unprepared for the lifestyle change.
He advocates the introduction of HIV and drug testing, the adoption of a ratings system to warn of violent content and a specific tax - similar to those for cigarettes and alcohol - with the money going to fund outreach organizations like his.
"When your privates become public, you lose your privacy," he said. "People call me up and what they did 10 years ago is coming back to haunt them. And it will for the rest of their lives."
In exchange for the $1,200 she accepts for performing sex acts on camera, an actress also often signs away the rights to her performance and image. What started out as one scene can then be repackaged in endless compilation films or posted in perpetuity on the Web.
`It's that girl'
"We know a girl who didn't really do a lot of porn," said Evan Seinfeld, an actor who runs the Studio City-based adult-entertainment company Teravision with his wife, porn star Tera Patrick. "She did a little porn, a little Playboy, but there's an ad running in the back every month of 40, 50 adult magazines. She's on the inside page of every one with a (penis).
"They airbrushed it on and now it's the official ad of (a transvestite sex phone line)."
But most people don't think about that, Cannibal said. They think about the money and the possibility of fame, then dive in. She followed Margold's advice and slowly built up her career, which proved to be a wise move.
Without someone to guide her before she first had sex on camera, she's not sure how things would have gone.
"In adult, there's no training," she said. "In any other business with some kind of risk, there's training. If you're working down on the docks in Long Beach, there's safety classes. There's nothing in this industry like that."