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Porn industry clinic comes under fire for its handling of HIV case

The Adult Industry Medical Healthcare Foundation said privacy rules bar it from releasing details about the case. But critics say the case highlights how the clinic is shielded from industry scrutiny.

October 15, 2010|By Molly Hennessy-Fiske and Rong-Gong Lin II, Los Angeles Times

A private San Fernando Valley clinic that caters to the porn industry has come under scrutiny for its handling of a new HIV case in an adult film performer, with critics saying clinic officials have failed to disclose details or cooperate with health officials.

Some longtime observers said the latest case highlights how the clinic's managers have been left to regulate themselves, shielded from scrutiny by the industry that funds it.

Lawyers for the Sherman Oaks-based Adult Industry Medical Healthcare Foundation, also known as AIM, said medical privacy laws bar the clinic from releasing details about the case, including the performer's gender or work history, or when the positive test came back. They also have declined to say how many porn performers have been quarantined because of potential exposure.

As of Thursday, clinic officials had not reported the new HIV case to state or Los Angeles County health officials. Clinic lawyers issued a statement Wednesday defending their handling of the case and accusing authorities of releasing false statements and AIDS activists of "fear-mongering." The officials said they are following the law, which allows seven days to report a positive HIV test result to county health officials.

"There's a ton of curiosity. We just can't breach patient confidentiality," said Karen Tynan, an AIM attorney, who said the foundation was still waiting Thursday for final test results to come back.

But some health experts questioned why the clinic would wait to make a report.

"I really have never seen anything quite like this before," said William Smith, executive director of the National Coalition of STD Directors. "What we have in this case is a private clinic shielding information from public health authorities. The role of state and local health departments is to protect public health, and in this instance we have a private provider thwarting their attempts to do that."

In the absence of more information from the clinic, rumors have swirled in the San Fernando Valley porn industry, where several prominent production companies halted filming this week as a precaution. A young male performer who asked not to be identified said that after the news broke Tuesday, the AIM clinic was "packed full of people getting tested."

"Everyone has freaked out," said adult film performer Brooke Haven. Haven said she understood the decision not to identify the so-called Patient Zero, but also added, "But I don't know if I agree with that really. Especially in our industry, I think we all have a right to know."

Porn performer Angela Aspen said a report in the widely-read industry website Adult Video News that the infected porn performer is a man who worked in both gay and straight porn has prompted much discussion. Clinic officials have not confirmed that report.

Some straight porn performers have been critical of the industry for allowing gay porn performers to cross over, Aspen said. Unlike straight porn producers, who say consumers do not want to buy films in which condoms are used, the gay porn industry typically requires condoms. However, gay performers are not required to be tested for HIV before working.

"We have to get tested every 28 days," Aspen said. "There's no ifs, ands or buts about it.... We want accountability for the other side."

Aspen said film companies should start offering rapid HIV tests prior to shooting. Still, some in the industry said they were confident it was safe to keep working.

"The actors and I have been in contact and discussed it. We're safe and we're confident and we're going to have a good time," said Nina Hartley, who has worked in the industry for 26 years and planned to film a scene Thursday.

The voluntary work stoppage by some porn producers comes at a difficult time in the industry, which has been hurt by the recession and the proliferation of free porn websites with amateur or pirated pornography. On top of that, insiders say more people are interested in becoming porn performers, intensifying competition.

"A lot of people are just holding on," said porn actor Jeremy Steele. "It's got too many people doing it, too much pirated content and free content. You can't compete with free."

molly.hennessy-fiske@latimes.com

ron.lin@latimes.com

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