Adult Industry Meets To Discuss Its Healthcare Future

STUDIO CITY, Calif.—Just over 50 members of the adult movie and internet community met today at the Sportsman's Lodge, site of many past such meetings, at the invitation of the Free Speech Coalition (FSC) to discuss the future of healthcare services for adult productions in the wake of the bankruptcy and subsequent closing of AIM Medical Associates, the industry's primary STI testing and treatment organization.

The meeting, which began shortly after 1:30 p.m., was moderated by FSC executive director Diane Duke, who has spent most of the last six weeks scrambling to line up personnel and organizations that are capable of, and willing to, replace AIM. What she announced, and others supplemented, though focused on healthcare, was nothing less than a revolution in the way the adult industry conducts its business.

The first speaker was Evil Angel general manager Christian Mann, who noted that AIM's closing had left "a vacuum in the production community," and said that in seeking a solution to that problem, the Free Speech board had essentially asked two questions: "What can we do to help?" and "Can we improve on the services previously provided by AIM?"

Though Mann lauded the important work performed by AIM co-founder Sharon Mitchell, he pointed to several flaws that had become endemic to the organization, mentioning specifically the breach of AIM's database by an unnamed entity (which most industry members know to be PornWikiLeaks). In contrast, he said that FSC's involvement in the new Adult Production Health & Safety Services (APHSS) program would improve on AIM's methods, in part because FSC is "the stable entity that our industry can rely on."

Essentially, as Mann and others described it, the new healthcare model divides AIM's former duties into two distinct components: a group of testing centers, some with a national presence, which will conduct talent testing for approximately the same prices that AIM charged, and the new Adult Production Health & Safety Services organization, which will consist of a separate "advisory council," made up primarily of representatives chosen from the ranks of current performers. The council will also have one production company representative, one agent representative, one attorney—Karen Tynan, a specialist in workplace safety who's familiar with the industry (she has also represented FSC at various Cal/OSHA hearings), a medical consultant—virologist Dr. Gary Richwald, a former director and chief physician for the Los Angeles County STD Program, has been proposed and who spoke later—and an APHSS coordinator.

One of the coordinator's jobs will be to interface with the APHSS IT specialist, who is currently in the process of creating a "talent availability database," which will have several advantages over the performer database previously maintained by AIM.

"All we're trying to do is to be a central clearing house so that people who need access to this information can get it, and know that it's reliable, and know that it's not subject to some new bankruptcy and can know that people can't mess with it," Mann explained.

As Mann detailed, and CEO Peter Acworth later expanded on, under the new system each of the approved testing centers will maintain its own online database, accessible only by the testing center and the patient (performer) him/herself, which will allow the performer to both look at his/her own medical records and, if he/she wishes, to print out the results of any test performed at the testing center. However, neither producers nor agents will have access to any performer's test unless the performer gives permission for that company/person to see it. In order to accomplish this, each performer will be assigned a personal identification number which he/she will use to access the database, and a password, both of which he/she will have to keep secret in order to prevent unauthorized access to his/her medical information.

The purpose of the system is to maintain each performer's medical privacy, a requirement under federal and California law which AIM asked performers to give up so that producers could access AIM's talent database to confirm a performer's health status before allowing them to perform in a sexually explicit movie. This system was challenged last year in a lawsuit by former performers Desi and Ellie Foxx, who are represented by AIDS Healthcare Foundation staff attorney Brian Chase, and at this writing, because of AIM's bankruptcy, the status of that lawsuit is unclear.

Separately, the APHSS will create and maintain its own database for performers, to which adult production companies can subscribe. Each "performer page" of that database will have just three pieces of information: The performer's real name, the performer's personal ID number, and an indication whether the performer is "available" or "unavailable" for sexually explicit work.

The new talent database serves several purposes. By not listing the performer's stage name along with his/her real name, pirate organizations like PornWikiLeaks will be unable to use the database to gain access to personal information about the performer that may be used to defame him/her, violate his/her personal privacy or for other nefarious purposes. Also, the designation of "unavailable" will no longer be an indicator that the performer has a sexually-transmitted infection (STI); it could just as easily signify that the performer is on vacation, is away on a dancing tour, has an injury that would prevent him/her from performing acting duties in a movie, or any one of a number of other reasons having nothing to do with the person's STI status. In this way, each performer's medical privacy will be protected.

Another purpose of the new system will be to create a coordinated procedures by which to issue warnings to performers when it is learned that they have had sexual contact with another performer who has tested positive for HIV—a function similar to the one AIM performed for nearly 15 years. That process will be undertaken on behalf of APHSS by Dr. Richwald, who will coordinate with the infected performer to learn who s/he may have had sexual contact with, and—since performers' email addresses and phone numbers will be available through the APHSS performer database—begin contacting first- and second-generation possible infectees to schedule them for testing.

Performers will be required to pay a yearly fee of $50 to access the talent database. The database will officially launch in mid-June, although performers and producers can begin signing up for it now. Producers who are also FSC members will be required to pay a $150 monthly fee to access the availability database; non-FSC member producers will pay $250 per month. Producers will not be able to access performer medical information contined on the clinic's database without the express permission of the performer involved—and then will be able to see only that individual performer's medical record.

Mann stressed, and Duke agreed, that the fees charged for these services will be entirely transparent, and a sheet indicating how the collected monies will be spent was handed out at the meeting. Duke also noted that a yearly accounting of income and expenditures for the program would be produced and available for any of the program's members to see.

As the speakers explained to the assemblage, the new system will still allow performers, if they so choose, to show their tests to fellow performers before beginning a scene, or even to company representatives—again, if they so choose. By law, "employers" are not allowed to require "employees" to reveal their HIV status, nor are "employers" generally allowed to maintain medical records on "employees," and even though there is currently a dispute regarding whether adult producers are "employers" and performers "employees," the new system will protect performers' medical privacy no matter how that dispute is eventually resolved.

However, another reason that a particular performer could be deemed "unavailable" is if the performer had not yet completed his/her required yearly health and safety training, the details of which are currently being worked out, but which training is required by the California Division of Occupational Safety and Health (Cal/OSHA). It is predicted that performers will be able to complete such training online, and should require less than one hour to complete, once a year.

One thing that Duke stressed over and over is that the program "will grow and change because of you," and that it is "not going to be perfect coming out of the gate." She said that FSC is still in the process of vetting clinics to perform the required services, and in answer to a question from the audience, assured the audience that performers will be able to move easily from one testing center to another with no interruption in their ability to work. One of the criteria for selecting clinics for the program, she said, was their willingness to charge approximately the same prices for tests that performers had paid to AIM.

During the question period, former performer Brooke Lee Adams questioned whether offering the same tests that AIM had performed would be enough, and encouraged the new organization to also offer tests for syphilis and herpes, to encourage performers to be vaccinated against the human papillomavirus, and to provide extra training and information to performers just coming into the industry. Duke replied that all such suggestions would be taken under consideration, with Mann pointing out that it was the intention of the new organization not to become involved in performers' health choices nor to in any way store their health information, since it was just such involvement by AIM that led to at least one of the lawsuits that bankrupted the company.

The assembly's third speaker was Kink's Acworth, who provided details of the database proposals.

"It's, by web standards, a very simple database," he said. In signing up for the program, he explained that performers will be required to provide their first, middle and last names exactly as they appear on the government-issued photo ID that they use for 2257 purposes, as well as their email addresses and phone numbers. The database will then automatically generate an APHSS identification number and a "very complicated password," containing at least some non-standard characters. The performer will give the ID number and present his/her driver's license to the testing clinic, which will record both for identification purposes, and post that person's test results to its own secure database, and also use the performer's real name and ID number to access the APHSS performer database to post whether that person is "cleared" or "not cleared" for sexual performance in movies. The clinic's own database will include a date on which the current clearance will expire, as well as a record of the past few clearance periods.

The producers and agents that subscribe to the performer database will only be able to access four pieces of information about a particular performer: His/her real name, the person's APHSS ID number, whether the person is "available" or "not available" for work, and if available, until what date the person will be available. Acworth originally proposed that the subscribers would also be able to see the performer's email address, but during the question period, director/performer Brad Armstrong objected to that, saying that revealing such information was unnecessary and might result in the performer being harassed. Acworth and Duke said they would take the objection under advisement, but indicated that they thought the objection was well-taken.

Acworth detailed what he thought were the security advantages of the new system: that there was little data in the database, and virtually nothing of a personal nature—neither the performer's stage name nor test results; that a complicated password was needed to access the data; that the site would be SSL-encrypted; and that it would have "brute force protection," refusing to allow continued attempts to log onto the system. He said he hoped that after the system had been in operation for a while, that more security could be added, such as allowing performers to choose which producers they would allow to see their availability status, a two-stage log-in procedure (to prevent phishing), and perhaps forcing performers to change their passwords every 90 days.

Duke then introduced Dr. Richwald, who gave the group a run-down of his professional qualifications. He said that he had done his early medical training at Mt. Sinai Hospital in New York City, and his residency at the University of Michigan at Ann Arbor, where he later ran that county's STD clinic. He had also been a professor at UCLA's medical school, at a time when HIV was first discovered, and had personally reported on the first case of HIV ever to have been found in a woman.

"I early on realized that health should be in control of the individuals more than the control of physicians and hospitals," he stated. "To cut to the chase here, if I were asked what the most important issues were here, I would say, number one, it's the health and safety of performers; number two is privacy issues, because without privacy guarantees and assurances, people don't participate and they feel anxious, pissed off, and I've dealt with all of these issues... I think the third most important issue—I think these are all equally important—is that the system works."

He noted that there appeared to be not a lot of trust between the adult industry and the county health department, and that one of his responsibilities would be to "mediate the relationship between those two groups and to try to build trust, but my number one goal will be to serve as an advocate for your organization and its members on all levels because I think that unless we come from a strong position of advocacy, we're not in a position to respond to the county's demands, some of which may be totally appropriate and some of which may be really pushing the boundaries of things."

Indeed, Dr. Richwald said that he had been a medical consultant to the Nevada Brothel Association, to the Los Angeles Bathhouse Association, and had spent eleven years (1989-2000) as the director and chief physician of the Los Angeles County STD Program, a position currently held by Dr. Peter Kerndt, whom Dr. Richwald counts as a friend.

"It was way too late to close the bathhouses when the County decided to do that; it was just punitive," Dr. Richwald assessed. "San Francisco did close the bathhouses and that resulted in a gigantic increase in disease transmission, because people were pushed out of the bathhouses into the parks, bookstores and other places where safer sex negotiation, conversation, seeing people's faces and other parts of their body would be much less likely."

At that point, Duke opened up the floor for questions, and there were no shortage of them, some of which have been noted above. Among the topics covered were the possible forgery of tests, which Acworth noted would always be available online, with performer permission, to check if there were a question about a printout; and the question of just which tests would be used, with Dr. Richwald noting that discussion was continuing as to whether a PCR-RNA test would be used for HIV detection, and that several of the newer tests were far more accurate than tests that were in use just a few years ago.

During the question period, attorney Jeffrey Douglas noted that he had been working with the FBI to target the owner(s) of PornWikiLeaks for having revealed performers' and others' private medical information on that database.

The meeting concluded with Duke and others encouraging those present—and any other industry members that could be persuaded—to attend the Cal/OSHA meeting June 7, since it might be the last meeting before that committee delivers its report to the standards board regarding whether a requirement that condoms and other barrier protection be used in the production of adult movies. Duke said she would be sending out reminder emails within a few days.

Some of the attendees at the meeting not mentioned above included Evil Angel's John Stagliano, Vivid's Marci Hirsch and Shylar Cobi, Girlfriends Films' Dan O'Connell and Moose, New Sensations' Renae Orenstein, Jules Jordan, Will Ryder, Wit Maverick, Erica McLean, Jim Malibu, Ernest Greene, Miles Long, Luc Wylder, attorneys Paul Cambria and Clyde DeWitt, agent Mark Spiegler, and performers Nina Hartley, Christian and Taliesin.

PHOTO: Evil Angel GM Christian Mann addresses industry members; FSC executive director Diane Duke to his immediate right.