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March 18, 2016

Analysis: AHF Files Another 'Barrier' Petition With Cal/OSHA

A COLD AND LONELY PLACE—AIDS Healthcare Foundation (AHF) has announced that it has filed yet another petition with the California Department of Occupational Safety and Health (DOSH, or as it's more commonly known, Cal/OSHA), and according to AHF's press release on the matter, the agency is required to "report its decision no later than six months following the receipt of such proposal." "After taking a number of years to consider our original petition, I appreciate the board's commitment to revisiting this worker safety proposal in a more timely manner," said AHF president Michael Weinstein. "We look forward to the opportunity to reopen the discussion with OSHA as well as the industry and anticipate that the board will ultimately vote in favor of protecting the health of adult film workers in California." Actually, Cal/OSHA moved forward fairly quickly on AHF's previous petition, holding several exceptionally contentious public meetings over the course of the past six years to hear commentary from proponents and opponents of requiring the use of condoms in the production of explicit adult content. (The requirement for other "barrier protections" was not the subject of AHF's earlier petition.) But that's just the most recent example of AHF playing fast and loose with the truth; its new petition to the Cal/OSHA Standards Board and Division officers contains several more. For example, the petition states, "The Los Angeles County Department of Public Health has documented an epidemic of sexually transmitted diseases among workers in the adult film industry. It attributes the epidemic to a variety of high-risk acts that workers are required to engage in, including 'pervasive use of ejaculation into the mouth,' 'growing use of internal ejaculation with vaginal and anal sex,' 'multiple partners over short time periods,' and 'double-vaginal and double-anal sex' (Kim-Farley 2011). Most importantly, the Los Angeles County department of Public Health attributes the epidemic of sexually transmitted diseases in the adult film industry to a lack of condom use on set." There's just one problem: The Los Angeles Times reported on June 17, 2009, that the County Health Department had retracted its earlier claims of an "epidemic of sexually transmitted diseases," admitting that it had published incorrect figures regarding the number of HIV cases it had attributed to adult performers, while Dr. Sharon Mitchell, the head of AIM, the adult industry's then-primary STD testing facility, had reported that, "It's true, some of those numbers are from performers, but why those figures are so inaccurate is because they were double- and triple-counted. I mean, we report [positive results] almost immediately, because we have the advantage of early-detection testing, and our population comes in and they say, 'Oh, here are my partners,' and everyone's very voluntary in the industry ... But oftentimes, people get a little anxious and they want to get back to work faster, and we know that it takes five to six days for the medicine to work, but people will come back and test on the second, third, fourth and fifth day, so they're counting a lot of the same people for the same exact infection." In fact, there have been no on-set HIV infections within the adult performer community in California since 2004, and rates of other STD infections are substantially lower in the adult industry than in similarly-aged populations across the United States. "Incidences of infectious disease exposure and transmission are well-documented and occur with alarming regularity in the adult film industry," the petition goes on. "According to a study by Goldstein et al. (2011), between 2004 and 2007 there were 2,633 documented cases of chalmydia and/or gonorrhea among 1,849 adult film performers in Los Angeles County. Adult performers were found to be 64-times more at-risk for gonorrhea and 34-times more at-risk for chlamydia than the general Los Angeles County population. Compared to a similar age group, adult film performers were still found to be at greater risk: 18-times more at-risk for gonorrhea and 8.5-times more at-risk for chlamydia than 18-29 year olds in Los Angeles County (Goldstein et al. 2011). To add, Goldstein et al. found that a quarter of adult film performers experience a re-infection within one year." Besides the fact that Dr. Mitchell has already put the lie to the infection and re-infection rates quoted by the county, the "Goldstein et al." report was thoroughly debunked by Dr. Lawrence S. Mayer, a renown epidemiologist and biostatistician at Johns Hopkins University Bloomberg School of Public Health and School of Medicine, who was commissioned by Dr. Mitchell to analyze the Goldstein et al. study. More analysis of that study can be found here. "Adult film industry representatives claim their self-regulated voluntary testing scheme prevents the incidence of sexually transmitted diseases among adult film performers," the petition continues. "However, according to a study by Rodriguez-Hart et al. (2012), 28 percent of adult film performers tested positive for gonorrhea and/or chlamydia and 23 percent of those infections would not have been detected through the adult film industry's current testing scheme." In fact, AVN looked closely at the "Rodriguez-Hart et al." study when it was first published on the website Sexually Transmitted Diseases, but clicking on the link to that article now brings the warning, "The Published Ahead-of-Print article you requested cannot be found. Most likely, the article has published to the print issue and certain information has changed. The article will again be available once the transition is complete." [Emphasis added.] We don't know what may have changed, but considering that the report was based in large part on the findings of Dr. Robert Rigg, owner of the West Oaks Urgent Care Center and an infamous character in the history of adult industry healthcare, who allegedly reported on just 168 "adult performers," at least 30 percent of whom hadn't made any sexually explicit content for more than 30 days, whatever may have changed can't affect the fact that the statistics that Rodriguez-Hart and her associates relied on were in fact unreliable. AVN's report on the study can be found here. "Lastly, according to a study published this year by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in the Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report, there is strong evidence that an adult performer became infected with HIV on set despite following the adult film industry's testing scheme (Wilken et al. 2016). The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention argues it may in fact '... underestimate the extent of HIV transmission in this cluster.'" First of all, once again, AHF fails to mention that this alleged on-set HIV transmission actually occurred in Nevada rather than Cal/OSHA's area of jurisdiction, California. Beyond that, it is currently unknown whether the original HIV-infected performer actually followed the industry's testing protocols, since no documentation of the performer's alleged "industry protocol" test has yet been produced—and if the performer had been tested with AHF's own approved protocol, the ELISA test, which test the industry discarded more than a dozen years ago as completely unreliable for adult industry work, that performer could very well have been infected and not know it—and sadly, apparently no one on the set where the transmission took place inspected any performer's test results. Beyond AHF's inaccurate retelling of the history of HIV/STDs in the adult industry, the new petition also hopes to enact some interesting changes in the California Health Code. For example, part of AHF's proposed definition of "Adult Film" includes "the production fo [sic] any film, video, multimedia or other recorded representation of sexual intercourse in which the performers actually engage in oral, vaginal, or anal penetration, including but not limited to penetration by a penis, finger, or inanimate object." [Emphasis added.] Yes, that's right: AHF wants performers to wear condoms (or latex gloves) on their fingers and sex toys in adult content scenes. And as for its proposed "new section," "Adult Film Production," once again, AHF uses the weasel words "Engineering and work practice controls include, but are not limited to"—meaning that once again, this isn't just about condoms, as AHF has often claimed, but could include dental dams, latex gloves, goggles, face shields and possibly even full-body coverings. But since Cal/OSHA is required to "report its decision no later than six months following the receipt of such proposal," we can't help but wonder if this new petition will lead to a new round of hearings—and maybe Cal/OSHA can bring back its recently retired chief inspector Deborah Gold, who made such a hit at the Standards Board meeting in Oakland last month, to chair them!

 
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