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Health advocates, porn industry representatives debate workplace protection

At a meeting in Oakland sponsored by Cal/OSHA, the groups air their disagreements about industry practices and existing law. The major point of contention: condom use.

October 26, 2010|By Lee Romney, Los Angeles Times

Reporting from Oakland — Public health advocates, porn industry representatives and performers past and present gathered in Oakland on Monday to discuss workplace protection law and whether a more tailored regulation specifically requiring condom use on adult film sets is necessary.

The meeting was the fourth held by California's Occupational Health and Safety Administration to invite public input and air disagreements about industry practices and the status of existing law.

A petition filed by the AIDS Healthcare Foundation late last year asked Cal/OSHA asking the agency to amend its regulations to directly require condom use during vaginal and anal sex in the adult film industry.

Current law regarding blood-borne pathogens applies across industries and was crafted in the 1990s for healthcare workers. Though it does require employers to take protective measures — including "barrier protection" — a Los Angeles-area porn performer's recent positive HIV test has intensified the debate on the need for a more tailored law and stricter enforcement in the lucrative industry.

Condom use is common in gay pornography but rare among companies shooting porn for straight audiences.

Monday's gathering revealed a deep rift between public health advocates eager for strict workplace protections and industry officials who assert that their approach of education, optional condoms and regular testing for infectious disease is working.

The Free Speech Coalition, composed of industry representatives, called Monday for education and testing practices to be written into regulations and suggested that medication could meet the definition of "barrier protection." Executive Director Diane Duke also maintained that "Patient Zeta," the recent performer who tested HIV-positive, contracted the virus outside of work and that testing prevented transmission of it within the industry.

"Our program works, over and over and over again," she said.

Frank Cambria, a lawyer who represents adult film businesses, warned that a more explicit — and widely enforced — condom regulation would merely send production to Mexico or underground, where workers would then have no protections at all.

More medical information is needed before final decisions are made on condom use for oral and vaginal sex acts, he said, noting that consensus seems more certain about condom use for anal sex.

"This will have a profound impact on a huge industry," he said. "I think the path we're on is a good one.... But I don't think we're nearly there yet."

Cambria's remarks prompted Cal/OSHA chief counsel Amy Martin to clarify: Condom use, she said, is already required by law. The issue under consideration is whether an ordinance focusing explicitly on condom use for the adult film industry is needed to prompt greater employer understanding and compliance.

State law must also meet the federal standard, which also requires barrier protection, she said.

Though the morning brought polite and constructive exchanges, by afternoon positions had become polarized.

Brian Chase, assistant general counsel of the AIDS Healthcare Foundation, delivered a scathing assessment of the industry, saying it "doesn't seem to think the rules apply to it."

"They want to pretend that 'barrier' means something other than barrier," said Chase, who called for a clear and simple rule and "aggressive enforcement" because of the industry's poor compliance record so far.

Shelley Lubben, executive director of the Pink Cross Coalition, a group of former and current performers who educate workers about the law, called the industry disingenuous.

"They're not confused. They don't want to lose money," Lubben said, noting that she contracted herpes, human papillomavirus (HPV) and cervical cancer as a result of her work.

Cal/OSHA has conducted about 30 inspections on porn sets since an HIV outbreak in 2004, in response to complaints about the lack of condom use, Cal/OSHA spokeswoman Krisann Chasarik said in an earlier interview.

The largest fine, $66,665, was imposed on a company called Evasive Angles in 2006. The company was also cited in connection with the 2004 HIV outbreak in the industry, she said.

lee.romney@latimes.com

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