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Groups to file complaints against 16 porn companies

Two foundations will register their concerns with California's workplace safety agency. They allege that failure to require condom use endangers performers' health.

August 20, 2009|Kimi Yoshino

Vowing "never to stop pushing" for condom use in porn, AIDS Healthcare Foundation officials said Wednesday that they plan to file complaints today with state officials against 16 California-based production companies they say have violated workplace safety laws.

The complaints will mark the latest move by the Los Angeles-based advocacy group to pressure the porn industry and government regulators to do more to safeguard the health of adult-film performers.

The foundation sued Los Angeles County last month alleging that public health officials had failed to prevent the spread of sexually transmitted diseases and to enforce laws requiring employers to protect workers against exposure to bodily fluids. The suit was filed after the disclosure that an adult-film performer had tested positive for HIV.

"You can go to any porn shop or any hotel and pull up incontrovertible evidence against every one of these companies," said Michael Weinstein, president and chief executive of the foundation. "Is there anything today that prevents them from going in and finding any of these porn sites to be dangerous workplaces?"

Foundation officials, joined by the nonprofit Pink Cross Foundation, which helps workers leave the adult industry, plan to file complaints with the California Division of Occupational Safety and Health based on a review of dozens of DVDs.

Foundation spokesman Ged Kenslea said that although the survey was not scientific, they did select films made by California-based companies. Of 58 films reviewed -- including Vivid Entertainment's "Nasty as I Want to Be" and Hustler's "This Ain't the Partridge Family XXX" -- only two included scenes with condom use.

The films were made by some of the biggest and best-known companies as well as smaller companies that specialize in gay, Asian or African American adult films.

Cal/OSHA officials declined to comment because the complaints have not yet been filed. They said they continue their own investigation into the most recent HIV case, as well as 18 additional HIV cases since 2004 reported to them by the Southland porn industry's primary health clinic. The state has subpoenaed patient records, but that access is being challenged in court by the American Civil Liberties Union, which has alleged a violation of patient privacy.

Industry officials have downplayed the seriousness of the most recent HIV case, which appears to be isolated to one female performer. They argue that voluntary guidelines requiring monthly tests for sexually transmitted diseases and quarantines for anyone who tests positive have kept performers safe.

"The industry has done an admirable job of policing itself," said Steve Hirsch, founder of Vivid Entertainment, adding that he does not believe the industry should be held to the same bodily fluid regulations as a hospital. "If Los Angeles County chooses to enforce mandatory condoms, what you'll see is all adult production leave California. It will move to other places."

Some who have left the industry report a darker side.

Former adult film performer Shelly Lubben, founder of the Pink Cross Foundation, said she contracted herpes and became infected with the human papillomavirus, or HPV, while working in the industry and had to have half of her cervix removed.

"We want the fans to know what they're contributing to," she said. "They're demanding harder and grosser porn. We want to educate them to exactly what they're watching -- diseased people. . . . It's illegal for bodily fluids to touch skin, and yet it happens every single day in the porn industry."

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kimi.yoshino@latimes.com

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