Saturday, April 17, 2004

Rick Westhead
Business Reporter

HIV scare hits U.S. porn industry

Sixty-day shutdown after two actors test positive for virus

Former stripper from Montreal is one of those infected

The seamy $11 billion (U.S.) adult film industry faces a 60-day shutdown after two performers tested positive for HIV.

One of the actors is a 21-year-old former stripper from Montreal whose stage name is Lara Roxx.

Two other Montreal women ? Patrice Petite, 19, and Judy Starr, 21 ? may have come in contact with the disease and have been banned from performing in any future adult films until they can be tested for the virus that causes AIDS.

The tests can't be performed for at least two weeks due to the nature of the virus, said Daniel Perreault, an executive with Montreal-based Eromodel Group Inc., a casting agency for the adult entertainment industry.

"I was worried because I thought Lara had gone to L.A. too soon," said Perreault, who represents the three Canadians involved in the controversy. "She was brand new to this and just didn't have enough experience."

Even though the leading producers of heterosexual porn videos began requiring actors to use condoms on screen in 1998 after five actresses tested positive for HIV, most studios relaxed their rules and now encouraged actors to engage in unprotected sex, Perreault said.

Roxx, who appeared in three films shot in Montreal before moving in February to Los Angeles, was infected during the filming of her first U.S.-based picture, during which she had unprotected anal sex with two men, Perreault said.

Roxx, Petite and others knew about the dangers of the industry, but were enticed by the chance to make as much as $1,500 a day ? a typical rate for a female newcomer, he added.

"They knew the risks every day," said Perreault, who represents about 60 actresses. "It's mostly safe."

A day after the non-profit Adult Industry Medical Healthcare Foundation announced Roxx and a male actor known as Darren James had tested positive, Vivid Entertainment Group Inc. ? a major adult film producer whose programs are distributed to more than 40 countries ? said Thursday it would halt filming for 60 days.

About one fifth of performers use condoms, health-care foundation says

Vivid and other producers typically make as many as four adult movies a day.

Doctors are now working to determine whether the virus spread to 14 actresses who had on-screen sex with James, or to the women's 35 subsequent sexual partners.

AIM, which regularly tests 1,200 actors for HIV, said about one fifth used condoms.

It has been reported that James may have contracted the virus while filming in Brazil.

Roxx, meanwhile, had not worked for the past several days because she felt ill, her agent said. Her flu-like symptoms may have developed as a result of the onset of the viral infection.

Ron Jeremy, a porn star in the business since 1978, and is tested monthly for AIDS, said few industry veterans are worried.

"This is a freak accident, under bizarre circumstances," he said in a phone interview from L.A. "The business is doing everything it can to avoid government regulation, so people play things safe. We like to police ourselves."

It's unclear what the shutdown might mean for the adult film industry, which has grown significantly in recent years as its stakeholders have won acceptance from mainstream cable TV operators and retail chains such as Tower Records. As recently as 2002, Comcast Corp. earned $50 million from adult programming.

"We call the business `the other Hollywood,'" said Tim Connelly, publisher of Adult Video News, a California-based trade magazine. "This is going to be a minor blow to the producers, but a major blow to the talent, who amount to independent contractors."

Connelly said about 4,000 adult films were shot annually in California. The industry employed about 4,000 people in California and 10,000 in the U.S., he said.

The last industry HIV scare was in 1999, when a male actor tested positive. No other actors were said to be infected.

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