AIDS Healthcare Foundation Sues Over Bogus HIV/STD Statistics

LOS ANGELES—Based on flawed statistics collected by the Los Angeles County Department of Health, the AIDS Healthcare Foundation (AHF) has filed a lawsuit to force the health department to "discharge its ... duty to combat an acknowledged epidemic of sexually transmitted diseases stemming from production of hardcore pornography" by requiring condom use or taking other appropriate steps to prevent disease in the porn industry, according to a report by City News Service.

There are just a couple of problems: The county doesn't have the power to do what the lawsuit wants, and the claims of an "epidemic" among industry performers isn't borne out by the statistics.

"What I don’t understand here is, lawsuits work best when two parties of differing interests go to court to ask a judge to resolve their differences," noted prominent defense attorney Jeffrey Douglas. "In this situation, we know that the county wants to regulate healthcare in the adult industry, and obviously, AIDS Healthcare Foundation wants them to do so, so we have a situation where there are two parties asking to do the same thing, and in such a situation, it is unlikely that the full story will come out."

But according to one knowledgeable party, there's a good reason why the lawsuit will fail.

"AIDS Healthcare Foundation was negligent in their facts in not realizing that Los Angeles County Health Department is not actually the division that is invested with the power of lawmaking for health and safety issues in the adult entertainment industry," said Dr. Sharon Mitchell, founder of the Adult Industry Medical (AIM) Healthcare Foundation. "They're targeting the wrong place. Any changes to health protocols must be overseen by OSHA," the state's Occupational Safety and Health Administration.

The Los Angeles Times also gave prominence to the AHF lawsuit, quoting statistics which it had already apologized for getting wrong early last month, that "18 HIV cases and more than 3,700 cases of chlamydia, gonorrhea and syphilis have been reported [by AIM] since 2004." In fact, including the Darren James incident, just five cases of HIV infection within the industry have been verified, with the rest of the HIV-positive results attributable to "civilians" (as Dr. Mitchell refers to them) coming into the AIM clinic for HIV testing, or people who would like to begin acting in adult but could not, due to a prior HIV infection.

Moreover, Dr. Mitchell informs AVN that it has now been definitely established that the actress who tested positive for HIV on June 6 acquired the disease from someone outside the adult industry, and that all who came in sexual contact with her have now been cleared of possible infection.

"So far, everyone's been negative," Mitchell said on Day 41 after the infection was discovered, "and we're not expecting anything further to occur from this incident, and we did find out that this was a non-workplace exposure, and there have been no non-workplace exposures as a result of this."

And as for the county health department's claim that there have been 3,700 cases of chlamydia, gonorrhea and syphilis among performers since 2004?

"It's true, some of those numbers are from performers," Mitchell admitted, "but why those figures are so inaccurate is because they were double- and triple-counted. I mean, we report [positive results] almost immediately, because we have the advantage of early-detection testing, and our population comes in and they say, 'Oh, here are my partners,' and everyone's very voluntary in the industry. It's not as if we have to seek people out and bang on their doors. But oftentimes, people get a little anxious and they want to get back to work faster, and we know that it takes five to six days for the medicine to work, but people will come back and test on the second, third, fourth and fifth day, so they're counting a lot of the same people for the same exact infection."

In other words, if a person with, say, a chlamydia infection were treated with antibiotics on a Monday, but came back for retests on Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday and Friday, when they would still be expected to test positive for the disease, AIM would report each retest of the same person to the health department, which would then count each positive retest as another incidence of the disease, thus improperly inflating the statistics.

"The county would love to make it sound like we're a bunch of diseased people walking around," Mitchell observed, "but the truth is, when AIM started in '98, our calculations say there was about a 12 percent disease rate, and as we count monthly, on a bad month, it's now about 2.8 percent, and that's chlamydia and gonorrhea and other STDs, so if we weren't doing our job here, a lot more people would be ill, dying, diseased and walking around with God knows what."

"Our normal infection rate is like 1.8 to 2 percent on a normal month," she continued. "Compare that to a local bar frequented by 18- to 25-year-old patrons, and medical statisticians are telling us that the rate of chlamydia alone among them could easily be up to 18 percent."

However, Dr. Mitchell has detected an ominous trend in the way the county health department has been using the required infection reports that AIM has been providing.

"They've been knocking on doors, questioning parents, roommates—and these are people that have already been medicated months ago," Mitchell warned. "They're harassing them and also telling them that AIM is not an efficient place to go; they should go to the county health department."

"I want to make sure that people realize that the STDs that we report, we have to do so by law," Mitchell explained. "There are certain things that we are required to report: Chlamydia, gonorrhea, HIV, syphilis, hepatitis—all those things, we must by law report, including the patient's legal name, not their stage name, and we put our clinic address on there. We're trying to keep the people safe by doing that, but they [health department officials] are getting a little savvy now, and there are some people in the industry with access to people's stage and real names who are helping them target the people's parents, roommates, etc.

"There are performers working in this field that, believe it or not, they'll wear a wig or whatever, and they don't want their parents or family members to find out they're working in porn. Kids are going to school to be teachers and stuff, and they're trying to pay their tuitions by performing in adult movies; leave them the fuck alone, for God's sake; they've already been medicated. We are a voluntary community, and if you slap a law on the porn business, I don't really think it's going to work any better than it's working right now."