Saturday, August 18, 2012

Porn Panic 2012: The Syphilis Hits The Fan

Way back in 2011, when the Adult Industry Medical Foundation (AIM), which had been the primary testing agency for porn performers, finally went broke due to the vendetta campaign by CalOSHA, the AIDS Healthcare Foundation, and the Los Angeles County Department of Public Health, this warning shot across the bow was delivered in these pages by one of the principal founders, managers, and supporters of AIM, Ernest Greene. 

Producers, under the circumstances, may opt out of any responsibility for verifying test results altogether and leave it up to performers to share the information among themselves. That's how it was for the most part back in 1996, when a performer who was HIV+ continued to work for six months with forged test results from an obscure clinic in Calabasas, resulting in a dozen HIV transmissions.

And now we're back to that. Unless somebody goes to the vast trouble and expense of reviving an organization that does what AIM did - as I expect will be discussed to no good end at the F.S.C's emergency meeting - that's the way it will stay until the disaster Michael Weinstein and his pals are hoping for finally happens. They've demonstrated beyond a doubt by destroying AIM that they care nothing for performer health, only for the pursuit of their own financial and political gain, and now that AIM is gone, they undoubtedly think they'll get what they want.

Only they won't. Cal-OSHA will not be able to enforce a condom mandate, even if they manage to get a court ruling allowing them to try, and AHF won't get a contract from the state to spend millions administering its antiquated testing methods and snooping around for non-condom shoots, which will go right on no matter what any outsiders attempt to force on this highly decentralized and disorganized business.

Everyone who was a party to this whole fiasco will be a loser, but the real losers will be the performers themselves, who have now lost the best system they could realistically have hoped for.

Those responsible for this thing are criminals in my eyes and the enormously heightened risk of a catastrophic HIV outbreak in this industry lies squarely on all their heads.

Yes, the industry didn't get up and fight them off as it needed to, but it shouldn't have needed to in the first place. Let's make sure we remember, forever, who actually did what in this deal, because when it explodes in everyone's faces, there will be plenty of finger-pointing going on in the aftermath.

There will never be any accountability for any of this and one of the very best harm reduction programs ever initiated by and for sex workers will be gone with nothing to take its place.

If I were observant, I would go to the nearest synagogue to address an imprecatory prayer petitioning for divine retribution against the evildoers who made this happen, but I'm not and can only curse them personally.

And that I do, until the day I die.
 Since that time, of course, the Adult Performer Health and Safety Services (APHSS) has congealed to take over and improve on the efforts of AIM, and testing companies such as Talent Testing Services and Cutting Edge Testing have emerged with updated and improved procedures and protocols that have at least consolidated the testing process.

The devil in the details, however, is that there is still quite a bit of strife and contentious conflict over how best to approach performer testing and reporting of performers who do contract sexually transmitted infections (STI's), with agents, production companies, and performers all pursuing their own agendas, interests, and beliefs.

And, through it all, the heavy weight of the AHF and CalOSHA, now empowered with the new condom mandate law now in effect in the city of Los Angeles and possibly expanded to include the entity of Los Angeles County pending a vote this coming November, cast a serious shadow over the entire process.

Not exactly an ideal time for yet another panic.

Fortunately, it's not HIV, but syphilis that is the center attraction. But the details emerging about this latest outbreak present a disturbing picture about how parochialism and turf protection allowed a performer to risk his life and the lives of others.

The story actually begins in Budapest in the former Czechoslovokia city of Budapest, where last week, AVN broke the story of a major syphilis outbreak that had shut down totally porn production there.

Yesterday AVN received a tip from a reliable source with knowledge of adult video production in Europe who said that there is currently an outbreak of syphilis in Budapest.

AVN was able to corroborate the tip with Sandy's Models and Brill Babes, two of the biggest modeling agencies in the Hungarian capital.

The infection is widespread enough that all production has been put on hold in Budapest until Aug. 21.

"There is some serious situation here in Budapest," Cameron of Sandy's Models told AVN. "Yesterday the Labor [department] sent a warning e-mail that they found that syphillis-infected people’s number dramatically increased."

AVN Hall of Famer Rocco Siffredi, who's based in Budapest, told AVN Tuesday that "today the number of people infected are [raised] to 21 and is not over!"

Both Cameron and Eszter of Brill Babes put the number of syphilis infections at 18 (14 females and four males), with eight female performers receiving positive results on Monday alone.

"All the models go to double syphillis check from yesterday, and the whole business stops till the 21st of August," Eszter of Brill Babes told AVN. "After the 21st everyone should retest again, and only the totally clear people are able to work in the future. Maybe the break will take longer; we'll see."

It's not known at this point where the infection originated, but Siffredi pointed out that many foreign performers come to Budapest to shoot, and that he suspects the infection came from somewhere else.

"The big problem is that not only local performers are involved but also Czech and Russian where we believe that this all think start [sic]," he said.
Serious enough for performers in Europe...fortunately, syphilis, unlike HIV, is far more treatable if caught early enough; and the actions of Budapest producers in containing and suspending production will do plenty to ultimately bring the situation under control.

Nevertheless, it was only a matter of time before some kind of impact would be felt here in the United States, since so many performers do in fact use Budapest as an alternative haven for shooting porn....and if the condom mandate were to pass in LA and even go nationwide thanks to the efforts of AHF and CalOSHA, places like Budapest could become an even bigger attraction for those avoiding the banishment of bareback sex.

That impact hit full on yesterday. And the repercussions directly involve some of the very protagonists in the current testing wars we have covered here at BPPA.

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The first explosion came with a blockbuster story posted over at AVN by Tom Hymes, which gave full details of some shocking personal testimony by a male performer named Devon Savage, whom had used Talent Testing Services as his main testing source. The story involves what happened when one of TTS's agents just couldn't keep his mouth shut....and how TTS may have covered up a potential nuclear powderkeg.

Some snippage of Savage's testimony, according to AVN: 
My wife and I went in to get our tests updated yesterday [Aug. 8]. We'd been out of town for two weeks on vacation with family. We got back and went into Talent Testing Service (in Northridge), and the two same people were there who are always there. The guy who runs the place and the girl who tests everybody. So I'm sitting there texting, paying the bill, and as I'm sitting there the main guy, who tends to run his mouth a bit, said, "So you know there are four new cases of syphilis in L.A. among performers?"

I looked up and said, "What? What are you talking about?"

He said, "Yeah, there are four new cases of syphilis in L.A., and one of them is a major, major male talent." 

"You mean like major male talent, like one of the big guys?" And I'm naming off names. Obviously, he's not going to give up the names, so he says, "Well, I can't tell you, but I'm just telling you there have been four cases recently of syphilis and one of them is a major male talent." 

At first, I was like, okay, because I've been in the business since 2004, and I'm pretty much used to the way AIM used to do things. When something happened, they told everybody and alerted producers and directors so everyone would be safe. And I didn't really think to ask him at that time, or say anything; I just sort of let it roll over me, saying something like, "Really there are four cases here? Because there are 20 or so cases in Europe."
 Savage's wife, FYI, is performer Ariella Ferrera; she verified Devon's story for AVN.

Obviously concerned why this news of an mini-outbreak wasn't front page news, Savage contacted the TTS manager, only to get the nurse who drew his test sample, who simply denied that the manager had said what he did say, and to assure Devon that the infected performers were getting treatment. But when Savage asked whether or not TTS was informing other producers and performers of the outbreak so that they could take some action to protect other performers, he essentially got the runaround.

He then attempted to contact the other major testing facility, Cutting Edge Testing...where he got the ear of the clinic physician there, Dr. Peter Miao:

I don't know the guy and don't know his credentials, but he is the doctor over there at Cutting Edge. He gets on the phone and said, "Well, you know, we don't test for syphilis because it's so rare. We don't test for it but every three to six months."
I said, "I am telling you right now that I was just told that four brand-new cases, one being a major male talent, has happened over at TTS. I just left the place and that's what they told me."
He's like, "Well, it's kind of a waste to do those tests on syphilis because we get a lot of false positives."
"I don't care if you get a thousand false positives," I said. "If there was one positive in there, we need to know about it."

And he's like, "Well, it's just kind of a waste, and it's a lot of effort and money." I couldn't believe what I was hearing. He was just telling me the chances of getting syphilis, but I was telling him, "Dude, there are four new cases. I'm not asking for your breakdown of the history of the disease."

I said, "Well, I was just told that four people are positive, so wouldn't you want to start checking people in the industry so this doesn't get worse?" Because it can go from four people to 40 people to 400 people in a very short time. He just basically disgusted me on the phone, and gave me no answers and gave me no sense that he was going to do anything or follow up with anything.
Now, in some defense of Dr. Miao, he did sound quite a bit more informed when he was approached by AVN in a followup call...and perhaps the reason he was a bit surly to Savage was because he, like everyone else, had not heard anything about a syphilis outbreak in the US.

A short time later, Savage recieved a call from the original manager of that TTS station in Northridge, attempting to cool things down by notifying Devon that everything is cool because the LACDPH was informed of the infected performers and they are receiving treatment. When Devon attempted to ask what TTS was doing to alert other performers and producers of these performers so that they can prevent them from working and possibly infecting others, he got the cold shoulder treatment.

So all of this is taking place while we were still out shopping, but then we go home and a couple of hours later my phone rings with a number I don't recognize. I pick it up, and lo and behold, it's the manager from TTS, and he says, "Hey, Devon, you don't have to worry about any of that."
 
"I don't have to worry about what?"

"You don't have to worry about that syphilis thing because we have it under control," he said.

"You have it under control?"

He said, "Yes. The people that got it are being treated and are not working right now, and we have let the County Health Department know."

I asked him, "How can you guarantee that they are not working? If you are not letting people know they have it, why would a guy whose bread and butter is having sex for a living stop just because he's got syphilis and is taking medication for it?" I said, "How can you confirm that they're not working? Did you follow them from their house as they go about their day?"

My point was that if you take a major male talent who you have just told has syphilis—and the guy knows he has syphilis already and knows there's nothing he can do about it, and he's taking medication, I don't know how long you've been in this industry, but I know there are quite a few people who would say, 'Fucking bag it, I'm not going to lose three months of work, because it's three months of work and three shots.'

And, as far as people they may have already worked with, they're not doing anything about that! That's why I was calling. I told him, "You guys have to alert producers and directors so they can get a handle on this and find out who these people have worked with and stop them from working." 

I told him it's useless to just tell the County Health Department and then presume to think that talent are going to stop performing. I said, "That's stupid. They might just take the medication and keep performing because no one is ever going to know they had it."
He didn't know what to say other than, "It's handled. Don't you worry. Everything's cool. We told the County Health and all these people are getting medicated and they are not performing right now." So then we hung up. 

Look, when I walk out of TTS and somebody tells me four performers came down with syphilis and one of them is a major male performer, and they're not doing anything about it, I'm going to let people know.
But the real fun began when AVN contacted Sixto Pacheco, the owner of Talent Testing Services, for his side of the story. Apparently either Sixto knows nothing about his staff blurting out sensitive and private information about their clients....or he knows and is simply playing CYA games.

Immediately after speaking with Devon Savage, this reporter sent TTS owner Sixto Pacheco the following email:

Hi Sixto,

I recently spoke with a male talent named Devon who said he was informed yesterday by the manager of your Northridge facility that there are four new cases of syphilis in Los Angeles, and that County Health had been informed. I would like to confirm that information with TTS, and also ask what is being done as a follow up. Your manager told the male talent that County Health has been notified and the four performers are not working, but I am also curious whether TTS is following up with additional testing for the four and also with any of the partners they may have worked with, and also whether any studios have been informed of these cases. 

I am working on a story now and would greatly appreciate any information you can give me that will help explain exactly what happened.
Yours,

Tom

I also called and left a voicemail with Sixto at the same time. After receiving no response to either the email or the call, I made another call on Friday, during which I spoke with Sixto from the TTS offices in Miami.

After informing him that the purpose of the call was to follow up on questions asked in the email, he said, "We have no comment. Our branch manager out there has no authority to say things about statistics of our talent population in terms of testing."

I replied that even if that's the case, Devon said he did say something.  "Unfortunately, then, I have to say that we have no comment about that," Sixto replid [sic].

When pressed again that, in that case, could he just confirm whether the cases are real, he said, "Whatever cases arise, we do report them as stipulated by law to the County Health Department for follow-up and further testing."

I then asked why there was a problem confirming what happened, if anything, and added that, unfortunately, the manager may have gone farther than just saying there were cases, Sixto replied, "Even if he did go farther than that, and he wasn't supposed to do that, it doesn't give you the authority to demand additional information. "

I then asked if he could simply confirm what his manager had said, and he said, "I don't even know exactly what he said. You're getting that from a tertiary party." By tertiary, I assume he meant a third party source, but Devon Savage was in fact a primary source for the information that was allegedly given directly by the TTS manager.

I told Sixto that, according to Devon the manager had called him back and repeated the claims made hours earlier in the office.

"Let's take a step back here," said Sixto. "We started offering the syphilis test here as part of our basic panel, and that started about a month ago. If we've had cases that came out to be positive, and again I'm saying if we've had cases that came up positive, then it could be mainly caused ... because we've never tested for it before ... so if you're trying to tie what's happening to what's happening in Eastern Europe to what's happening in L.A., I can't even speculate on that because we don't have previous information.

We said we were not trying to tie anything to anyone, but the alleged cases in Hungary, combined with four alleged new cases in Los Angeles, made this a newsworthy story.

He repeated that he could not tie any European cases to any cases in L.A., and added, "We get positive chlamydias all the time. Is that not newsworthy?"

"It's not as newsworthy," I said, "because cases of syphilis are much rarer," and added that it was apparently noteworthy for the manager at Northridge because he made a big point out of mentioning it to Devon.

"No, he didn't make a big point out of it," insisted Sixto.

"He did according to this other fellow," I replied.

"Then there's your tertiary source," he said. "That's your problem right there."

I said that I could only go by what I was told, and was only trying to find out what really happened, if anything, adding that Devon was very specific about the conversation with the manager and the subsequent call.

"I'm not making any connections with Hungary," I said, "but what I'm being told is that once you get syphilis the antibodies are in your body forever and you will always test positive. So what I'm also trying to find, and what I don't know, is if this is that situation. And do those cases still have to be reported?

"I wouldn't be able to answer that question," said Sixto.

"Why not," I asked.

"Because that's confidential information," he replied. "You're asking me to give you testing results on presumed positive cases, which I cannot confirm."

"No, I am not," I said. "I am asking about legal requirements. I read on the L.A. County Health Department site yesterday that syphilis has to be reported within one day, but what I don't know is if that holds for someone who comes in who previously had syphilis..."

"All cases," he said, referring to the reporting requirement. "Any case that comes up positive, any case. It's not positive ... it's called a reactive case. It doesn't mean it's an old or new case; it can be any case."

"This is kind of unfortunate," I said. "I'm trying to get some basic information, because a performer was concerned about what happened to him at TTS. He was told something that concerned him. Now I'm just trying to find out if the cases were there, and are they new cases that were they sent to County.

"We wouldn't know," he said.

"You wouldn't know?"

"We wouldn't know because we started testing for syphilis a month ago," he said. "We don't know if it's an old case, a new case. What we do know is that we need to report it to the County Department of Health."

"Okay, so you guys don't know. That's helpful. That's information I didn't know. Look, I'm only working on information provided me, that [your Northridge manager] called Devon back and told him the performers aren't working anymore and Health had been notified. He told him not to worry, they're on medication, Health has been notified and they're not working anymore. Three very specific pieces of information."

"That I will not confirm or deny," he said. "If our guy said that, he's not supposed to be saying that and if you want me to confirm the information..."

"That is why I was calling..."

"I'm not going to confirm it."

"Okay, I appreciate your time."

"Okay, bye."

"Bye."
The interesting thing here is that Pacheco basically uses the old "we can't confirm or deny that four performers tested positive for syphillis, but our hands are tied because we have to report any positive test for any STI to LACDPH...and that's privileged private information we can't reveal" card. Funny that, since one of the main reasons why Pacheco refused to allow TTS to join the APHSS database was to protect TTS's "privacy" and their protocols, which explicitly state that the LACDPH would be the first to be contacted if a performer tested positive for HIV or any other STI....but they themselves would not be bound to reveal any positive tests to anyone else, not even other production companies, due to privacy laws. (Well, that and the concerns about the alleged lack of security of the APHSS database, despite the fact that the database would only contain the performers' name and their verification of clean health status.)

Of course, one could also point out that TTS might have something far more ulterior in taking their stand of "independence" against what they charged was an monopoly against them by their competitors Cutting Edge Testing, who was essentially formed out of the ashes of AIM, whom had the full institutional support of the Free Speech Coalition, whom had formed APHSS in the first place to be AIM's chief successor in consolidating testing protocols, and which had further gained the trust and backing of the huge porn conglomerate Manwin, which owned such entities as Brazzers, MoFos, Digital Playground, and many other adult production companies.

And also....there is the just as fascinating intervention of some of the biggest porn talent agencies in favor of TTS against the Manwin/FSC/APHSS cartel/conglomerate. People like former performer Shy Love, who now heads up one of the larger porn talent agencies, ATMLA, and who has been one of the loudest voices against APHSS and CET and for TTS; especially for the principle of "choice" and "flexibility" in performer testing. Why, it's practically un-American and very dangerous, or so they say, to have one testing agency control all of performer testing, especially one that has the backing of a corporate behemoth like Manwin! There MUST be freedom of choice for performers to select the best company that serves their particular needs at an affordable price!

Never mind that it was exactly that "freedom of choice" that enabled Tony Montana in 1994 to find an agency that would modify his positive HIV test and allow him to continue to work unabated while HIV+....which set off the major porn outbreak back then.  And, never mind that that "freedom of choice" allowed Darren James to travel to Brazil, get infected with HIV, and then return to shoot a live scene that ended up infecting three other performers in 2004. (There is some speculation that maybe Lara Roxx, the other centerpiece of that outbreak, may have brought her own infection to that shoot, but that is only speculation for now.)

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And, oh, how that "freedom of choice" now looks, because of that other nuclear explosion of a bombshell that dropped. The credit for this one, though, goes to XBiz.com:

One Male Performer Is Positive for Syphilis, Agents Say

LOS ANGELES — There is one male performer in the Los Angeles porn community who tested positive for syphilis in July and worked three times with a doctored STI test during the past three weeks, talent agents Shy Love and Derek Hay told XBIZ Thursday afternoon.

The performer, who was on Love’s Adult Talent Managers roster until this morning, admitted to working while knowingly positive with syphilis, and also to doctoring his test. The admission was made to both Hay, the owner of LA Direct Models, and the production executive that realized the test had been altered.

Love, who cut the performer from her roster earlier today after finding out, said she and Hay wanted to notify the community that there is in fact a positive syphilis performer.

“Our first instinct was the safety of the talent,” Love said. “We’re not going to hide something because the talent happens to be on our roster. It’s important to make talent aware that there is one positive performer and they should get tested because there is a potential risk right now.”

Love said the positive performer went behind her without the agency’s knowledge to book the three scenes in which he has worked since testing positive. One of the scenes was with one of the female performers at LA Direct Models, Hay confirmed.
That's right, Clones: Tony Montana Marc Wallice rides again. [See latest comment by Ernest Greene below for correction.] A performer is able to fake his tests and still perform and infect others while his agent and the testing agency sits around and does nothing to resolve the case...or, alert others.

I'm pretty sure you can make a logical guess where the performer was tested now.

And based on that, you now know why Sixto Pacheco was so silent to AVN.

But, this isn't even the first time that TTS or Shy Love has been the center of alleged chicanery. Remember the 2011 false positive scare where a performer using TTS was originally reported as contracting HIV...only to be cleared when APHSS intervened and ran their own tests at their facility??  Remember that it was only when the performer approached APHSS with the concerns about the false positive that a moratorium on shooting scenes was imposed??

Also remember that during the last meeting of agents and performers that Shy Love hosted this year attempting to rally people for TTS and "freedom of choice" regarding performer testing, one of CET's representatives there had made a charge that during that 2011 scare, Love had actually solicited for the private medical records of not only "Patient Alpha", but all of his first- and second-generation partners..which would be a gross violation of federal HIPPA laws? (Love strenuously denied the charge.)

But yet, Shy Love and Derek Hay were more than willing, even as they were waylaying APHSS for attempting to undercut Talent Testing, to allow one of ATMLA's performers to not only cover up a positive test (and even mask it in order to keep shooting), but to sabotage the one measure -- verification through the central APHSS database -- that would have probably nipped this whole thing in the bud as early as July.

And remember...this poor fellow was infected even before the outbreak in Budapest, so what's to say that there isn't a genuine connection between the two after all??

And the worst thing??  If the performer was diagnosed in July, yet he was so able to get into his records and alter them to cloak his test, then what does that say about the security of medical information over at Talent Testing Services?? Especially since they were so busy attacking the security of APHSS as a reason for not signing on with their services??

There is another disturbing aspect to this as well: Talent Testing Services recently joined forces with the University of California at Los Angeles to sponsor and help conduct a survey on STI's within the adult industry; wheras TTS promised discounts and free treatment for those performers willing to engage in the survey. Why is this disturbing?? Because UCLA just so happens to be one of the main instigators for activism for the condom mandate, through their Reproductive Work Group. They have sponsored seminars and offered reports explicitly propagandizing about the dire threat of a porn "pandemic" of STI's, requiring drastic action, including mandatory condoms and other "barrier protection". One such report has been debunked for greatly inflating the depth of STI infections within porn (multiple reports of infection turned out to be the same person tested repeatedly while infected, but counted as seperate infections).

Finally, there is the basic fact that Talent Testing has said that they would immediately report any positive tests to the LACDPH, as required by law, but they would not guarantee that they would share any information about positive tests with any other performer or production company, citing privacy laws. The problem here, as Mark Kernes has reported for AVN, is that LACDPH is not exactly an unbiased source when it comes to using performer records for its own ideological purposes; and the fear is that they would exploit any positive test as fuel for their campaign to smear porn in general; not to mention that they would probably publicize and shut down production even before any positive test was verified....or was proven to be false, as was the case in 2011. At least with AIM (and with APHSS), they would verify any initial reactive tests with follow up testing before announcing them to the public and imposing any moratoria on production, within the 24 hour time frame before they inform LACDPH.

So, let us review here what we have: An agency that insists on their right of "freedom of choice" to offer alternative testing for porn performers allows a performer to test postive for syphilis, then alter their test so that they continue to shoot scenes for a whole month while infected, and then only runs him after they find out he's infected. The testing company who discovers the test denies in public to their own performer clients that they tested an infected performer, but is more than willing to give that info to the local health agency...which is up to their nipples in the campaign to force condoms, dental dams, and other forms of "barrier protection" on performers and blow up the very testing and screening regimen that has protected performers from massive STD outbreaks very well since 2004. Moreover, that testing company is in cahoots with another agency that is part of the campaign to destroy testing and replace it with the condom mandate, and being supported in full financially and institutionally by the talent agencies who challenge the existing regimen.

And...AIM was destroyed to create THIS clusterfuck.

To be fair, all the parties have now reacted with breathtaking speed to the syphilis threat: Manwin has now suspended production of all its satellite sites and instituted tougher standards for testing; both TTS and CET now offer free syphilis testing to all their performers, and APHSS has now added syphilis testing to its testing protocols.  So, there is hope that this latest episode can be handled before things really get hairy.

In the meantime, though, there are some serious questions that need to be raised about why Talent Testing Services and the agents who so back them in their little coup against APHSS and Cutting Edge Testing and Manwin are so willing to undercut their own principles just to get their monopoly. As much as AIM may have had their issues, their commitment to the welfare of performers was unquestioned and unmatched; the attempts to smear their record, and to undermine efforts by APHSS to retain and expand on that commitment through fractionalization and distortion, is not only counterproductive, but, in the midst of AHF, LACDPH, Shelley Lubben, CalOSHA, and the war to drive porn out of Los Angeles, it is dangerously close to betrayal.

But I guess, as always, we shall see what we shall see when we see it.

2 comments:

  1. Let's set the record straight here.

    In the outbreak of 1998 that led to the formation of AIM, it was Marc Wallice and not Tony Montana who faked his tests for months.

    Tony was infected several years later in non-porn circumstances and immediately withdrew from the industry. He did the right thing, never faked a test and should not be blamed for Wallice's wrongdoing.

    ReplyDelete
  2. Ernest....record duly straightened, and post edited in response.

    ReplyDelete