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Porn film performer tests positive for HIV

An adult film performer in San Fernando Valley’s lucrative porn industry has tested HIV-positive, prompting at least two well-known adult movie production companies to suspend filming as a precaution.

The HIV infection of an active porn performer is the first known local case in more than a year and immediately strengthened calls by AIDS activists for the state to mandate condom use on porn sets and to increase regulation.


FOR THE RECORD:
Adult film performer: An article in Wednesday’s LATExtra section about a new case of HIV in an adult film performer in the San Fernando Valley said porn production company Vivid Entertainment was based in Van Nuys. It is located in Studio City. —


The case was confirmed to The Times on Tuesday by officials at the Adult Industry Medical Healthcare Foundation, known as AIM, a Sherman Oaks clinic that primarily serves porn industry workers.

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“We are quarantining and testing all exposed partners to the individual,” said Jennifer Miller, an HIV/STD counselor at the clinic.

Miller declined to disclose the gender of the person who tested positive, what companies he or she worked for, when the person was tested and whether AIM had notified state and county officials.

“We’re doing what we can to notify the individuals involved,” Miller said.

She said AIM officials plan to release more information at the end of the week.

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In the meantime, Vivid Entertainment, based in Van Nuys, and Wicked Pictures, based in Canoga Park, both suspended production Tuesday, citing the positive HIV test.

“We did this as a precaution and will continue to monitor the situation,” said Steven Hirsch, Vivid’s founder and co-chairman. “We will wait for all of the facts to emerge before resume production.”

Wicked Pictures officials, who described their productions as “condom-mandatory,” said they halted filming to allow AIM to create a “comprehensive quarantine list.”

Diane Duke, executive director of the Free Speech Coalition, a Canoga Park-based porn trade association, said it was too early Tuesday to draw conclusions.

“What we know is someone tested HIV-positive; we don’t know the circumstances. What we do know is AIM has identified that someone is HIV-positive and is taking care of it,” Duke said.

However, local AIDS activists, who have petitioned the state’s Division of Occupational Safety and Health and unsuccessfully sued the county Department of Public Health to mandate condom use by performers, demanded that Los Angeles public health officials investigate AIM immediately, seizing records if necessary.

“How many more people have to be infected with HIV before Los Angeles County steps in to do its job and protect performers’ and the public’s health?” asked Michael Weinstein, president of AIDS Healthcare Foundation.

Weinstein said county health officials should demand that the clinic disclose which performers were affected and name the production companies involved so that Cal/OSHA can investigate. Otherwise, he said, “AIM and the industry will do everything in its power to prevent us from knowing how many people were affected.”

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Los Angeles County health officials said they had received no notification of the new case but noted that requirements allow seven days for reporting. Cal/OSHA officials said AIM had not notified them Tuesday that a performer had tested HIV positive.

“We think that’s a problem,” said Amy Martin, the agency’s chief counsel. “We’re being stymied right now. We believe it’s critically important that we be able to pursue this for the health and safety of the workers.”

When a performer tested HIV positive at AIM last year, Martin said, state officials demanded that AIM disclose the performer’s work history. The performer filed a restraining order in Alameda County Superior Court barring AIM from releasing the information to state officials; the case is pending, Martin said.

Industry officials said that the actress had worked rarely and that no one else in the industry was infected as a result.

It was unclear immediately how far-reaching the implications were in the most recent case.

A 2004 HIV outbreak in the San Fernando Valley-based porn industry shut down production for a month.

In that case, also detected through testing at the AIM clinic, more than 30 companies voluntarily stopped filming to wait for results on dozens of adult performers who had engaged in sex scenes with either Darren James or the three female performers he infected with HIV. James, who had recently worked outside the U.S., had tested negative just days before performing and was not aware of his positive status when he infected his costars.

On Tuesday, James sharply criticized the industry.

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“I knew it was going to happen. And how many years has it been? Again. They went right back to the same habits,” James said.

James has emerged in the last year as a vocal advocate for mandatory condoms on porn sets. At a Cal/OSHA hearing in Orange County in March, James questioned the industry’s reliance on testing performers for HIV.

He reiterated that message Tuesday. “There should have been mandatory condoms. Good grief, it’s like my deal all over again. I hate that.”

The new case may fuel the continuing controversy over whether the industry does enough to protect performers.

State officials maintain condoms already are required under workplace rules that protect workers from exposure to bodily fluids. But the rules are widely flouted, and condoms are rarely used in straight porn films because producers say they depress sales. Some in the industry say the believe regular testing is sufficient to prevent the spread of HIV and other sexually transmitted diseases.

“This shows one more time why testing isn’t prevention,” said Deborah Gold, a Cal/OSHA senior safety engineer. “They are now going out and testing a whole bunch of other people to see if they can prevent more exposure, whereas the approach of Cal/OSHA is to prevent that exposure in the first place.”

An advisory panel considering whether the state should strengthen rules on condom use and testing for sexually transmitted disease for California’s porn industry is scheduled meet again Oct. 25 in Oakland.

molly.hennessy-fiske@latimes.com

ron.lin@latimes.com


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