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State regulators agree to explore requiring porn industry performers to use condoms and adopt other safety measures

March 18, 2010 | 12:43 pm

State regulators voted Thursday to establish a committee to explore the possibility of requiring porn industry performers to use condoms and to take other safety measures.

The six-member California Division of Occupational Safety and Health standards board voted unanimously on the advice of staff to create an advisory committee to report back on whether to change state law to require safe-sex protections for adult-film actors and actresses.

The decision was greeted with applause from the crowd of about 40 people, including current and former adult-film performers, at Costa Mesa City Hall.

Board member Guy Prescott, director of safety for Operating Engineers Local Union No. 3, said he had planned to vote against the measure but changed his mind after hearing from performers and other members of the industry.

“The question is the particular acts and exposures to the workers and what are we doing to prevent that,” said board member Jonathan Frisch, principal risk manager at PG&E Corp. "I found it extremely interesting to hear from members of the industry here this morning. It’s going to be very, very important that we do have them at the table.”

The board, appointed by Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger, had up to six months to act on a Dec. 17, 2009 petition filed by the AIDS Healthcare Foundation to change state law and require mandatory condom use for adult-film workers and more stringent safety training and testing for sexually transmitted diseases.

“We believe the state of California has a responsibility to regulate these workplaces as they do every other workplace,” AIDS Healthcare Foundation President Michael Weinstein told the board.

The foundation has been pushing regulators and porn industry leaders to better safeguard the health of adult-film performers since an HIV outbreak among porn performers in the San Fernando Valley in 2004.

More than a dozen speakers addressed the board before the vote, including Los Angeles County public health experts and several current and former adult-film workers.

Dr. Robert Kim-Farley, director of communicable disease control and prevention at the Los Angeles County Department of Public Health, recommended mandatory condom use and increased, free STD screening for adult-film performers.

Rates of STDs such as chlamydia and gonorrhea are seven times higher in the adult-film industry than in the general population, he said, and up to a quarter of performers are diagnosed with an STD in a given year.

Former porn actor Darren James, who tested HIV-positive during a 2004 outbreak, called current industry STD testing practices a security blanket that actors mistakenly believe protects them from infection.

“You think you’re safe but you’re not; in between scenes, you don’t know what other actors are doing,” James told the board.

Then he turned to the crowd and addressed fellow actors.

“I’m living your nightmare every day,” he said. “You don’t want to live what I’m going through now.”

Actress Angelina Armani disagreed. She said that during the last two years she has appeared in many adult films, has been tested regularly for STDs and has never contracted a disease.

“My industry has protected my safety and continues to protect the safety of other performers,” Armani told the board.

Last summer, the foundation sued Los Angeles County after the disclosure that an adult-film performer had tested positive for HIV. In the suit, it alleged public health officials 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 dismissed by a Los Angeles County Superior Court judge late last year, but the foundation appealed the decision last Thursday.

Diane Duke, executive director of the Free Speech Coalition, a Canoga Park-based trade association said her group's members have tried to comply with state health and safety regulations but that they are overly vague and general. She said she supports forming an advisory committee as long as it includes adult-film workers, producers or other industry representatives.

“Our industry is eager to comply with California state standards,” she told the board.

-- Molly Hennessy-Fiske

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