L.A. County health officials say at least 16 performers have been infected in addition to one reported this week. That brings the number of HIV cases in porn performers to 22 in the last five years.
By Kimi Yoshino and Rong-Gong Lin II
June 12, 2009
Despite porn industry assurances that an adult film actress' recent positive HIV test is the first since a 2004 outbreak shut down production for a month, Los Angeles County health officials said Thursday that at least 16 additional unpublicized cases of HIV have been confirmed in adult film performers.
The newly released data bring the number of HIV cases in porn performers in the last five years to 22, including the case disclosed this week.
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The report -- and what state and county health officials perceive as stonewalling by the Adult Industry Medical Healthcare Foundation, which tests porn performers for sexually transmitted diseases -- is bringing renewed scrutiny to the estimated $12-billion-a-year industry's long history of resisting regulation and condom use.
"AIM Healthcare has never been cooperative with us and our investigations," said Dean Fryer, a spokesman for the state Division of Occupational Safety and Health. So far, the San Fernando Valley-based clinic has declined to tell county or state officials the name of the performer or her employer.
"You'd think they'd want to be a full partner in trying to prevent the spread of this disease," said Dr. Jonathan Fielding, health officer for Los Angeles County.
The performer first tested positive June 4, said Dr. Colin Hamblin, AIM's medical director. She worked the following day -- June 5 -- for reasons Hamblin said are still being investigated. A second positive result came back June 6. And the clinic is awaiting results of a third and final confirmatory test, he said.
The actress had two recent sexual partners, according to AIM. One is a porn actor, now under work quarantine, who performed with the woman June 5. The other is her boyfriend. Those men have had sexual intercourse with an additional six people, who have all been notified and offered testing, Hamblin said. So far, no one known to have had contact with the woman or her partners has tested positive for HIV.
Hamblin said the clinic is following all reporting rules, but because of patient privacy concerns cannot legally disclose the patient's name or employer to the county. "They also have to realize we have limitations too," Hamblin said. "We'd be happy to work with the county in any other capacity."
Attorney Kim Martin, special counsel to the state health and worker safety agency, said that the state health department and other public health agencies are exempt from those privacy laws and that they will continue seeking cooperation from the clinic.
In a statement published on AIM's website, Sharon Mitchell, the clinic's co-founder and a former porn star who appeared in more than 2,000 films, said the media was "like a moth to a flame."
"Rumor is rampant when the words 'HIV' and 'porn' are in the same sentence," she said.
Mitchell said AIM's clinic has been a leader in promoting prevention and testing. But, she added, "we are not the police department of the industry nor wish to be."
Public statements from clinic representatives downplaying the incident -- which one clinic official called "not a major event" -- drew some criticism.
"This industry screams for regulation," said Michael Weinstein, president of the Los Angeles-based AIDS Healthcare Foundation. "Cal-OSHA needs to require that condoms be used in any film. Yesterday."
The positive HIV test has concerned health officials and AIDS activists because the Valley is one of the leading producers of pornography in the world, with about 200 production companies that employ about 1,200 people who work as adult performers, and about 5,000 others. With some of the nation's largest pornography producers based in the Valley, any disease has the potential to spread quickly.
The 16 unpublicized HIV cases were not investigated by county public health officials, partly because privacy rules before 2006 prevented the disclosure of the names of HIV-infected individuals to government agencies. Because no government investigation of those cases took place, it is unclear whether those performers contracted HIV at work or elsewhere.
County officials were able to investigate the HIV outbreak in 2004 because AIM disclosed the names of the infected performers to the public. In that outbreak, Darren James, a well-known porn star, infected three actresses he had worked with before learning that he was HIV-positive. Another unrelated performer also tested positive. The cases spurred a series of public hearings, but legislation to force safer practices quietly expired without a vote.
No state laws specifically require condom use and the vast majority of heterosexual porn movies are shot "bareback," an industry term for unprotected sex.
State labor codes, however, do require use of personal protective equipment and protection against blood or bodily fluids in the workplace. Since 2004, five adult entertainment companies have been cited for a variety of violations. Each case has been settled, state officials said.
Since 2004, 2,378 people who identified themselves as adult film industry performers have tested positive for chlamydia in Los Angeles County. An additional 1,357 tested positive for gonorrhea and 15 for syphilis, according to data released Thursday by the county's health department.
Public health experts tried again in 2007 and 2008 to require condom use in adult films, but no lawmaker agreed to sponsor legislation, said Paula Tavrow, an assistant professor at UCLA's School of Public Health. But porn industry executives and officials, including its advocacy group the Free Speech Coalition, argue that they do a good job of self-regulation and say that the rates of HIV infection remain low. If laws are passed requiring condom use, they said, porn production would be pushed underground or outside California.
John Stagliano, a former porn star and president of Evil Angel productions, said: "The market determines whether or not this will be shown. A government agency the size of Los Angeles couldn't stop it. It's not going to change."
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