Thursday, April 15, 2004

Associated Press

HIV scare shuts down some Southern California porn productions

Adult movie producers shut down sets and dozens of performers were barred from working Thursday after an actor and actress tested positive for the virus that causes AIDS.

At least 45 actors and actresses were under voluntary quarantine because they had sex with the HIV-positive performers or the people they slept with, said Sharon Mitchell of the nonprofit Adult Industry Medical Healthcare Foundation.

Mitchell said the male performer, whom she declined to name, was "conscientious" about having HIV tests every three weeks. On Friday he tested positive for HIV and a follow-up test on Monday confirmed it, Mitchell said.

The organization, which screens about 1,200 adult movie performers a month for HIV and other sexually transmitted diseases, did not notify local health authorities because "we can respond more quickly," Mitchell said. A list of quarantined actors was placed on its Web site.

Mitchell confirmed later Thursday that one of about a dozen women the actor had sex with in films also tested HIV-positive.

The industry news magazine AVN said she had been involved in a scene involving unprotected sex, and had been in the adult film industry for only three months.

Dr. Jonathan Fielding, director of public health and health officer for Los Angeles County, said the agency did not consider the HIV discovery in the porn industry a threat to public health "at this point."

"I think in general, they've done an appropriate job in terms of the quarantine measures taken," he said.

However, the discovery shows that screening programs are not perfect and the only way to prevent AIDS "is not to have unprotected sex."

Mary Carey, an adult star who ran for governor of California last fall, said she had not worked with the HIV-infected actor or his co-stars. However, as a precaution she was canceling a lesbian porn shoot even though she did not consider it risky.

"It's very scary," she said. "This is kind of a wakeup call for everybody."

As of Thursday about a dozen adult movie companies had agreed to follow a voluntary moratorium on production until June 8, said Tim Connelly, publisher of AVN.

It was unclear how much impact the work stoppage would have on the $4 billion to $13 billion-a-year industry, which is centered in the San Fernando Valley.

"It's going to hurt some people (financially) but who cares? It's about safety now and about people's lives," said Jill Kelly, a former adult performer turned producer.

Kelly said she would delay about eight movies but has others ready for release. Some companies have as much as a year's worth of product ready, she said.

The porn industry's largest company, Vivid Entertainment, told The Associated Press in a statement that it would continue production, arguing that they already have safety measures in place.

"Six years ago, we implemented a mandatory condom policy on all of our productions. In addition, all performers, male and female, must produce current negative HIV tests and STD (sexually transmitted disease) panels taken within 30 days of the start of production," Vivid co-founder Steven Hirsch said in a statement. "We respect the choices made by other producers in the industry but our decisions are based on what we feel is best for Vivid."

Later Thursday, Adult Video News posted a statement from Vivid spokeswoman Ellie Reeve on its Web site, saying the company had decided to cease production.

Connelly said quarantined actors won't be working for at least two months, until they are cleared by new HIV tests.

"They're absolutely quarantined," Connelly said. "That would be absolutely insane (to hire them). That would be playing Russian roulette."

The production moratorium will hurt actors and actresses the most financially, Connelly said.

"If this is full-time what you're doing for a living, and then they say for 60 days you can't work — ow," said Linda Roberts, an adult film actress and performer.

"I think my first reaction was to just shake my head and go oh my God. Potentially it could be really bad, and I feel so sorry for the people involved," she said.

The larger production companies and the 100 or so performers who work regularly for a living usually are extremely conscious of sexually transmitted diseases, she added.

"It becomes really scary," Roberts said. "If you think about one guy, he's shooting maybe a couple of scenes a day, and those people are going out and shooting … the number of people who could be affected is astronomical."

The industry has been good about self-policing, Connelly said. In general, no performer is hired unless he or she has passed a current HIV test, Connelly said.

"You would probably be ostracized if you didn't have a test. It's a Wild West out there but we have our own code," he said.

The last industry HIV scare was in1999, when a male actor tested positive for the disease. He no longer performs and no other actors were infected. Before that, a male actor infected five women in 1998.

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Created: April 25, 2004
Last modified: April 25, 2004
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