The cover story for the Los Angeles Times Magazine for January 12, 2003, was a blast at the adult video industry titled "See No Evil" - for which the article's writer, P.J. Hufstutter apparently overcompensated by seeing too much.
It was clear that this was no pro-industry piece right from the get-go; specifically, the article's subhead, "In California's unregulated porn film industry, an alarming number of performers are infected with HIV and other sexually transmitted diseases. And nobody seems to care."
On the contrary, many people care, according to Miss Sharon Mitchell and Laurie Holmes of AIM Healthcare, who know how inaccurate the "alarming number" is.
"You know, we haven't had an outbreak [of HIV] in the industry since '99, with Tony Montana," Mitchell told AVN.com. "He was the only person within the industry that was positive, but we find one to four people a month that are trying to enter the industry [who are positive], so they're going to take a look at that data and say, 'Oh, that's very sufficient.' I don't think that we're going to be talking about stepped-up weekly testing for PCR-DNA. What I do feel is that it's going to be stepped up for chlamydia and the other STDs."
Thanks to a grant from the L.A. County Health Department, performers are tested for the full spectrum of STDs every time they get an HIV test at AIM, but unlike the HIV tests, which are reported back within 24 hours, the blood and urine for the STD tests is processed by an official L.A. County lab, which takes a week to come back with its results.
"Therein lies the problem," Mitchell warned. "So I think if we take a look at that, with the results coming back faster like the next-day turn-around, which I could do through a private lab - but we'd need to get funding."
Mitchell also notes that while Hufstutter used AIM's data for the statistics quoted in the article - "Of 483 people tested between October 2001 and March 2002, about 40% had at least one disease. Nearly 17% tested positive for chlamydia, 13% for gonorrhea and 10% for hepatitis B and C" - she failed to tell the whole story.
"My statistics that were in there were done very, very well on Excel to show exactly who was tested for what and who was medicated, the number of partners they had, the number of partners that were contacted," Mitchell explained. "What happened was, obviously, they took and made their own outcome from my stats, didn't they? They didn't talk about that [those infected] had been medicated, the dates of medication, the follow-up, the partner contact. That's another thing that bothered the county health department and us [about the article], because we've been trained by the principal investigators and the primary investigators from the CDC [Centers for Disease Control and Prevention] in terms of partner notification and everything. They've taken the time to bring people in from North Carolina to train us on this. We're not winging it here."
It also bugs Mitchell that the story spent so much time on a five-year-old case which could not happen again, largely because of the changes made by the industry in response to the 1998 outbreak.
"I don't know if you know that AIM has added a service in the last two months where everything gets put, electronically, into the records of the companies," Mitchell announced. "We have a special database made, and special passwords for each company that donates money each month, and each morning, they go and take the talent that's working each day and put it electronically into their records, so we are very, very far ahead. We've been expecting this for a long time. We're very well prepared for this."
"I don't see an easy time ahead for us," she continued, "but I see one that's not bad in terms of the monitoring, only because AIM's been doing it for so long, this is just a question of sliding it over into official [status]. Because on that part, we've been self-governing. This industry has really stepped up to the plate with the self-governing aspect of it."
But Mitchell does have one big worry.
"The worst thing I see happening is some wacky state legislator saying, 'Okay, we'll all go condom only now,' because that will drive this industry underground again, sure as shit, and we'll be faced with having to deal with HIV and STD outbreaks continuously," Mitchell said ominously.
"Now, [mandatory condom use] sounds well and good, but cut to the reality of a young woman that needs to pay the rent and feed her baby or take care of her tuition, and she's on the set and someone is offering her $400 more to take that condom off unofficially for the European version, okay? Our objective has to be to give all the information to cover that situation and our goal must be to fill that slot with testing and monitoring, and so therefore, that would be the definition of harm reduction: Give enough information where people can make their own choices, fully armed with all the information based on the truth. We've got to go about this from a harm reduction status. There's no other way."
Mitchell has already been contacted by the L.A. County Board of Supervisors, and told AVN.com that a committee will be formed for investigation of the possibility of either county- or state-monitored mandatory testing.
"AIM will be working with the committee with the County Health Department and in contact with the County Board of Supervisors to see what if anything will be done," she said.
Besides the STD situation, the Times article is filled with similar half-truths and horror stories about conditions in the industry that in fact apply only to a small number of producers.
For instance, the article claims that the performers "often worked without clean toilets, toilet paper, soap or water," and that one performer on one Thomas Zupko set worked without an HIV test. But what the article fails to note is that Zupko's company at the time, Extreme, engages in a wide variety of unsavory practices that are deplored by the more legitimate producers in the industry, and that most performers wouldn't consider working for the company. And in fact, the vast majority of sets do have properly-working toilets, toilet paper, soap, water... and food. What the Times got right is that, yes, the hours are sometimes long.
Hufstutter attempts to compare California's adult video industry to Nevada's legalized prostitution industry, but the differences between the two are legion.
For one thing, but for the rare exception, everyone who performs sex in the adult video industry is HIV-tested, whereas no tests are required for customers at brothels - and since condoms are not in fact a perfect protection from sexually transmitted diseases, the prostitutes are wise to be tested more often than porn stars. And the prostitution industry has no organization comparable to AIM Healthcare to monitor outbreaks of disease and contact the infected person's partners at nearly a moment's notice; a skill which Mitchell has spent years perfecting.
So although Hufstutter quotes Dr. Alexa Albert, author of Brothel: Mustang Ranch and Its Women, to the effect that prostitutes are often propositioned to work without a condom, the danger to prostitutes for doing so with their (untested) customers is immensely greater than to porn stars, all of whom are HIV- and STD-tested on a regular basis.
Moreover, brothel workers are employees, while porn stars are ostensibly independent contractors, though that status has yet to be tested in court, and therefore are more responsible for their own welfare than an employee would be. Further, most of the major studios already treat hirees for a porn shoot as quasi-employees, withholding taxes from their paychecks and performing other services aimed at helping the performers avoid some of the tax problems which in the past have afflicted some veteran performers like Ginger Lynn and Tom Byron.
On one point, however, Hufstutter is probably right: The various government agencies want little to do with the adult industry, not because the industry could not benefit from some oversight, but because the agencies, their managers and employees revile what adult performers and other production personnel do. Hufstutter alludes to this when she notes that the Screen Actors Guild, which "oversees wages, health insurance, retirement benefits and residual payments" for Hollywood actors, has an official policy that "would never allow their members to work on an adult set." If even Hollywood is so prejudiced, why should the government be any different?
Hufstutter also gives a pejorative dismissal to the adult industry's lobbying efforts, noting that last year, actress Julie Meadow's job as a fledgling lobbyist was to "talk about pending legislation, including debate over tax breaks and real estate laws that could either hurt or help adult filmmakers."
What was left unsaid was that most of the legislation proposals that would affect the adult industry would in no way help it, but rather would put increasing and unnecessary burdens on it. The prime example is the issue that got the adult industry lobbying campaign started in the first place: The Calderon "sin tax" bill, which would have unconstitutionally attempted to tax legal, sexually-explicit literature and videotapes while failing to do the same to Hollywood product - a violation of First Amendment protections - and give the money collected to battered women's shelters, even though there is no scientific evidence that porn has any connection to spousal abuse.
"Today's pornographers maintain that the adult film industry is no different from other lucrative businesses based on vice, such as tobacco and alcohol," Hufstutter claims. "Sex is merely a commodity to be sold and branded, like Microsoft software and Chrysler minivans."
But software and minivans don't have need of the protections of the First Amendment - and aren't targeted by the Religious Right and (with the exception of MS Windows) the Attorney General of the United States.
Finally, Hufstutter, in trying to track the source of Brooke Ashley's HIV infection (as Sharon Mitchell eventually did), quotes a Van Nuys detective as saying, "I told them there was no way we could prove who did what. I don't know how the industry works. And I don't think there's a way to prove they all got HIV from the same person."
Apparently the police and county health workers are not as resourceful as one lone ex-porn star with a mission.
After reading the Times article, Tricia Devereaux, the first to be infected by Marc Wallice, had this reaction:
"I can't tell you how glad I am that I declined the interview with P.J.. I wanted to do it because I figured that even if the article was as slanted as I imagined, at least I'd be able to get my side of the story out there. But based on the actual article, I believe that my true thoughts would never have reached the viewer. Her skewed take on my thoughts would have."
"What [Hufstutter] left out were the stories of the wonderful intelligent people who are the true heads of the adult industry. Companies like Wicked Pictures, Evil Angel, Digital Playground and many others. Companies who care about the performers who work for them, take care of them as if they are family, and respect the world around us."
"I do not blame the porn business for my contracting HIV. I knew I was taking a risk. My trust was betrayed by ONE MAN who lied to me and the rest of my community. However, that has not ruined my life, as P.J. would like to imply. My life has changed, but I'd like to believe it's for the better. For those wishing to actually hear my side of the story, please contact me through www.triciadevereaux.com."