AHF Calls for Condom Use in Wake of Syph Outbreak - UPDATED

LOS ANGELES—In a press conference held this morning, AIDS Healthcare Foundation (AHF) called for "universal condom use" after reports surfaced late last week that as many as five adult performers may have tested positive for syphilis.

"This is the living proof that self-regulation by this industry is not going to work. This is also proof that testing is not a form of prevention," declared AHF president Michael Weinstein. "We look at the fact that syphilis has up to a 90 day incubation period. We look at the fact that this indxustry only tests its employees every six months for syphilis; that a person could go as long as nine months without being diagnosed and the disease spreading... Clearly the time has come for enforcement fo the regulations that exist now at both the state and city level, and hopefully will exist shortly at the county level."

Citing the fact that adult performers have sex with non-performers, Weinstein termed the five cases a "general public health concern," noting that there had been an 18 percent increase in syphilis cases nationwide between 2010 and 2011.

One of the main purposes of today's news conference was to support AHF's ballot initiative, Measure B, that will appear on Los Angeles County ballots in November, which would require that all adult producers in the county obtain public health permits before shooting, and such permits would, in turn, require those companies to use not only condoms in the production of adult videos, but also dental dams, face shields, goggles and possibly protective clothing in any areas where performers might come in contact with blood or other potentially infectious materials (OPIM).

However, when AHF consultant Mark Roy McGrath took the microphone, he claimed that "since 1998, this industry has failed to provide even minimal health and safety requirements," and noted that the current industry shutdown was national, and that "there is strong evidence to indicate that the syphilis started in Europe, on European shoots, and has come over to the United States, exposing our community, exposing our citizens."

"We have repeated called for this industry to take minimal, minimal measures to protect these workers," McGrath stated, going so far as to claim that "condoms are not even on shoots; they do not even have the option to select a condom," though he must be aware of the extensive requirements that passage of the county's Measure B would entail. He accused the adult industry of disregarding the law, and producers of failing to pay for performer tests, despite the recently-announced move by Manwin, via Free Speech Coalition's APHSS system, to help compensate performers for their tests.

"This really comes down to corporate citizenship," McGrath said. "We do not feel that California should allow corporations to act in such an irresponsible manner. This is about corporate citizenship; they have been poor corporate citizens."

Weinstein also stated that it had been "widely reported in the porn blogosphere" that one performer had falsified his/her test, and opined that, since many performers' only income is performing in movies or Web scenes, "you're relying on the honesty of performers, which is not always going to be the case where, if I say I have syphilis and I cannot work for 90 days and I've got five shoots set up, the incentive to lie is there."

"We're calling on the industry to adopt condom-only shoots from now on," he stated. "Second,  we are calling on more rapid enforcement by all levels of government of the laws that already exist, and also, we're calling on the performers to speak out on their own behalf... It's really been misrepresented that the majority of performers are opposed to this. They're not, but they're afraid," he claimed, without presenting any evidence of such an alleged performer mandate.

When asked whether such enforcement would mean that inspectors would have to be present on all adult movie and internet sets, Weinstein likened the situation to any other health and safety regulation.

"You have spot inspections," he said, comparing checks of adult productions to inspections of restaurants for cleanliness. "You don't have a county health person sitting in every restaurant all day long... If you do a spot inspection, and it's unannounced, and it's unsafe, and you deny that person a health permit, you revoke that permit, then you contact the city and say don't give them any more shooting permits, okay? All you need to do is a couple of those situations and it'll have a chilling effect on the whole industry."

Of course, health permits are not currently required by adult companies to shoot movies, but that would change if County Measure B passes in November.

Another question asked what AHF knew about the current outbreak, and Weinstein stated that the Department of Public Health had identified five positives, and that the "original person" was a male. (However, AVN is informed that there are only two known positives.)

"That's actually the most dangerous circumstance," Weinstein said of the alleged male positive, "because you have many more women than men in the industry, and therefore  single male could infect many, many women."

He also called the current moratorium "a poor way to protect the performers." He also admitted, contrary to McGrath's earlier statement, that he had no direct information that the current outbreak had originated in Europe.

Weinstein also supported the idea, first floated in the Working Group report issued last week, that the city contract with the county for adult set inspections, assuming the county measure passes. He also stated that FilmLA should start collecting fees now in preparation for when an inspection regimen actually begins—which, considering the First Amendment implications of essentially taxing one particular form of speech (sexual), may never happen.

Claiming that the Los Angeles County Department of Public Health has "almost unlimited power in the public health sphere," Weinstein stated, "Bottom line is, Los Angeles County, as the disease control mechanism, right now can go in and order a cease and desist order to any film site based upon state law; they've just chosen to be lax in that type of enforcement."

Indeed, Weinstein cited the city's closing of AIM as an example of good enforcement, though a good argument can be made that many of the industry's health-related problems can be traced directly to AIM having been driven out of business, in part from having to defend an ultimately unsuccessful lawsuit filed on behalf of two former performers by AHF's own Brian Chase.

Check back with AVN for updates as the fallout from this controversy continues.