LOS ANGELES — The AIDS Healthcare Foundation (AHF) held a press conference this afternoon at its headquarters on Sunset Boulevard to reiterate its claim that the adult entertainment industry is rife with sexually transmitted diseases and that therefore, under the California Health and Safety Code, health inspectors should shut down porn sets during random inspections if they find that condoms are not being used in sex scenes.
AVN attended the conference by conference call, and due to technical difficulties, much of what was said was inaudible, but the intent of all of the speakers was unmistakable: Despite the rigorous AIM testing procedures, adult performers are at a high risk for sexually transmitted infections, including HIV, and it's the duty of the state and county to protect them by forcing them to wear condoms, even if they don't want to do so.
"At the end of the day, it is the County's responsibility to protect the public health and it has not," charged AHF president Michael Weinstein. "It has the legal authority under California law... We're calling on the county to shut down porn sets that are not using condoms."
"Should actors come to work with the expectation that they might get a disease that might kill them?" asked Whitney Engeran, director of AHF's Public Health Division, after quoting statistics, source unmentioned, of STD infections in the industry from 2004 to 2007. "The industry needs to protect is workers. Are porn actors less deserving of protection than the general population? I would say no, particularly when their vocation is sex and they are paid to do that service, which should be protected."
"The industry's testing program is great, that's a good idea, but it's not enough," chimed in Brian Chase, AHF's Assistant General Counsel. "Testing is not going to ultimately prevent people from getting sexually transmitted diseases, so even though it's a step in the right direction, condom use, mandatory condom use is really what's needed in this industry. Measures have to be taken to stop the spread of STDs. County officials already have statutory authority to do that."
Chase was referring in part to California Health & Safety Code Sec. 120175, which reads, "Each health officer knowing or having reason to believe that any case of the diseases made reportable by regulation of the department, or any other contagious, infectious or communicable disease exists, or has recently existed, within the territory under his or her jurisdiction, shall take measures as may be necessary to prevent the spread of the disease or occurrence of additional cases."
However, with just five cases of HIV among hetero performers since 2004, and less than 20 over the industry's entire 35-plus-year existence, most of those occurring during the period before AIM existed, when HIV testing was sporadic at best and employed the unreliable Elisa method, it's difficult to conclude that AIM's testing protocols are an inferior solution – especially in light of the fact that mandating condom use during sex scenes would likely have the effect of causing production to go underground and/or out-of-state, thereby negating any protection methods.
And why hasn't the county enforced its law up to this point?
"I think the county is afraid of the industry," Weinstein incredibly claimed. "The industry wraps itself in the First Amendment. It has much too much power in the halls of Sacramento and the county defends them, or they just don't want to take responsibility. I was very pleased to see Cal-OSHA going in and doing the inspection that they did, that's a step in the right direction, but they went to the AIM office; they didn't go to the set where the people are working."
Weinstein went out of his way to claim that mandating condoms was not a First Amendment issue, although the erotic message sent by a bareback scene versus a condom scene is clearly different in many viewers' eyes – and the decline in sales during the period when some producers went "all condom" showed that all too well. However, Weinstein claimed that the gay adult industry suffered no loss of sales through condom use, although he admitted that "the gay community has suffered more from HIV infection" than the hetero side.
"We are not running a campaign against pornography," Weinstein nonetheless averred. "We are not involved in the issue of whether pornography is good or bad. We're not challenging that. We're not challenging anyone's right to do anything... We are the porn capital of the world, and from that point of view, this an issue that LA County has to grapple with that no other locality does, and they have not... I mean, one of the questions I have is, does Los Angeles really want to be known as the Unsafe Sex Capital of the World? Is that really the banner that we want to fly for everybody?"
Weinstein came out in favor of random inspections of porn sets to be conducted by the California Occupational Safety and Health Administration (Cal-OSHA), even though most adult productions use independent contractors for their talent, and OSHA's power is limited to situations involving employees.
But never mind: "The industry needs to protect is workers," Engeran declared. "Are porn actors less deserving of protection than the general population? I would say no, particularly when their vocation is sex and they are paid to do that service, which should be protected."