HIV Scare In Retrospect: 2

David Houston
In part one we looked at the origins of last year's industry health crisis and the role that the Adult Industry Medical Healthcare Foundation (AIM) played in controlling the outbreak. In today's conclusion, we'll look at what, if anything, has changed and Cal/OSHA's role in the scheme of things.

Don't Ask, Don't Tell
Companies and producers who do not enforce condoms on their sets usually are unwilling to talk about their practices. But those who are willing to talk say it's a matter of bottom-line mathematics: The public isn't as interested in watching porn where condoms are used.

Sunlove has little use for those people.

"Some of us just make our movies and go put our money in the bank," she said. "But some of us are facing our enemies day by day."

To understand how remarkable the adult industry's recovery from the HIV scare is, one has to remember that only 32 years ago the U.S. Supreme Court issued its "community standards" test essentially legalizing modern-day pornography.

Since then, the adult industry has been on a mostly unobstructed march toward full-fledged acceptance by mainstream society. Porn actors regularly appear in mainstream TV shows, movies and music videos.

The two biggest challenges to the industry so far — Attorney General Edwin Meese's 1986 pornography report calling for "widespread federal, state and local crackdown on the $8 billion-a-year pornography industry," and former Attorney General John Ashcroft's withering obscenity prosecution — mostly have been met with public snickers and judicial smackdowns. Thanks to the Internet, the industry's revenue has nearly doubled since Meese's ham-handed report.

So one shouldn't be surprised to learn that the nattering naysayers who vowed to use the HIV scare to reform the adult industry now have gone silent — if grudgingly so.

"It's disappointing that this issue apparently has receded from public view," said Dr. Jonathan Fielding, the Los Angeles County public health czar who called for mandatory condom use on all porn sets. "It's also disappointing that there is this group of workers exposed to a life-threatening disease every day on the job."

But Fielding seemed at a loss as to what, if anything, he can do about it.

"Unprotected sex in porn sends a very distressing message to the millions who look at porn, but the industry doesn't seem very interested in this," he said.

In the middle of the scare, the AIDS Healthcare Foundation led picket lines outside Larry Flynt's Beverly Hills office building because he refused to force Hustler actors to wear condoms. Asked recently about these efforts, Karen Mall, director of the foundation's HIV testing and preventing program, said, "It kind of died off.

"At some point, you loose your effectiveness," she explained. "So we just left it alone. A lot of people say they're going to do something under the spotlight and then it changes."

Neither did a spokesman for Los Angeles City Councilman Bernard C. Parks, who was running for mayor when the HIV scare broke and proposed a city ordinance that would have required condoms to be used on all porn shoots in the city limits. (The bill never got off the ground and neither did his candidacy.)

Cal/OSHA issued $30,000 in fines against the two porn companies that produced a film in which two of the actresses were infected. A spokesman for the agency also could not be reached.

Jedd Medefind, chief of staff to state Assemblyman Tim Leslie, R-Tahoe City, said the adult industry has "powerful friends" in the Legislature who ensured there would be no meaningful regulation of pornography.

Leslie "realized at that this juncture, with the Democrats in control of the Legislature, that the reforms he thought were important weren't going to get through," Medefind said.

Saying he didn't want to make it "a partisan issue," Medefind refused to name the people he counts as the industry's powerful friends. But he left little doubt one of them is Assemblyman Paul Koretz, (D) West Hollywood.

Koretz effectively killed Leslie's attempt to mandate regular HIV testing for all adult performers, but he shined a spotlight on another problem that has caused far more HIV infections in the state of California than the porn industry: prison rape.

Koretz has scheduled a hearing in the near future on a proposed bill to allow condom distribution throughout the state's prison system. Seeing as prison rape isn't as sexy as Jenna Jameson, so far, there have been few reports of it in the press.

Sunlove credits Koretz for realizing "this is a complex issue that couldn't just be glommed together with headline politics."

She also praises Mitchell who's testing system "while not universally perfect, is very, very good."

But she has a warning for producers: "This happened folks and there are five people out there with HIV that shouldn't have it," she said. "And, if it happens again, it will be a very bad thing."

Carey agreed.

"If there is another big scare in the industry, the government definitely will get involved and this time they'll probably shut us down," she said. "We're talking about lives at stake here."

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