Monday, April 7, 2014

AB1576's Rediscovery Of Testing: A Move Forward Or A Trap Door??

Of all of the developments involving Isadore Hall's recent bill, AB1576, to force condoms and other "barrier protections" in all porn shoots, the most interesting is their evolution involving performer testing.

In the past, the party line expressed by Hall and his mentors at the AIDS Healthcare Foundation was that testing, especially the testing regime currently used by the industry, was an utter failure that did nothing to protect the performers from STI's, including HIV, and that mandatory condom usage was the only tried and true solution.

However, with this latest effort, it seems that Hall and AHF have warmed up to the notion of mandatory testing, to the point that his current effort now includes a requirement that performers prove that they were tested no less than 14 days prior to shooting a scene, along with proof of using "barrier" protection.

Seems like Hall and AHF is reaching out to FSCPASS and meeting them halfway, right??

Not so fast. The car might look new, but a check under the hood for the actual details support a different, less altruistic agenda.

Keep in mind that the 14 day testing protocol is voluntary for porn studios. Most, due to cost considerations, can't afford a 14-day test, and instead go for 28 or 30 day cleared tests to allow their performers to shoot, along with varying degrees of condom protection. Some are condom only (such as Wicked and VIVID), and some are more optional, leaving that choice to the performer or producer.

AB1576, however, would force studios to undergo and pay for mandatory 14 day tests on nearly all of the standard STI's (HIV, Hepatitis A/B/C, HPV, chlamydia, gonnorhea, and syphilis), as well as require they use condoms, dental dams, and all other forms of barrier protection. Sure, Hall and AHF say that they only would require condoms; but they rely on the emerging CalOSHA standards for "bloodborne/sexually transmitted pathogen" protection, which does require the use of "personal protection equipment" as a form of "barrier protection". The CalOSHA standards would also forbid any proximity of sexually oriented body fluids to unwrapped "sensitive areas" such as the mouth, genitals, or anus..which would forbid facials, body shots above the navel and below the knee, and even perhaps oral sex without "protection".

The record keeping requirement that producers and studios keep and make accessible to health officials personal medical records of all performers depicting their test results and the degree of protection used in their scenes is already enough of a constitutional and personal privacy nightmare.

But that's not even the worst part of the proposal. The real devil in the details is in the type of testing for HIV that AB1576 would require, and how that could potentially backfire in a catastropic way.

Remember that the PASS standards use the most current and accurate HIV tests available at a cost....namely, the Aptima test, which is capable of catching the HIV virus within 6-10 days of initial infection. It has become the gold standard of rapid testing for screening out cases of acute HIV infection, a point that is vital with preventing the spread of the virus to other performers.

Problem is, though, Aptima is NOT the standard that the Center for Disease Control and Prevention or AHF uses for their HIV tests. They prefer to use the old and true ELISA antibody tests for initial screening, backed by viral load testing such as PCR-RNA or Western Blot for confirmation of a positive.

The problem with that is that antibody and antigen testing for HIV is notorious for not catching acute HIV cases, and have nearly a 60-90 day latency period where the virus can remain undetected. Now, no one doubts the accuracy of antibody testing for detecting HIV antibodies; but when you are trying to isolate acute cases before they spread to others, especially when it comes to shooting sex scenes that can go on for hours on end, having to wait 60-90 days for a positive or negative confirmation of getting infected isn't just a nightmare for the performer awaiting his fate; it's money out of his wallet.

Not to mention, the required moratoriums that force general work stoppages while testing of first- and second-generation screen partners of any potential infectee can cause serious impacts on performers and studios alike. I know of a model who was burned by the two back-to-back moratoriums while attempting to travel from Florida to California to shoot scenes; she now draws the line at performing only with condoms. (Out of respect for her privacy, I will not name her.)

The trap door, though, is this: AB1576 does not require performers or producers to get the latest and best testing for HIV, it simply states that they be tested under the guidelines set forth by CalOSHA and the CDC...guidelines that assume testing through ELISA-based assays.

Do you see the ultimate result here?? Studios not wealthy enough to afford the 14-day testing regime (i.e., those not owned by MindGeek) and overwhelmed by the requirement of full documentation of their testing regimens, would be the most likely to cave in to AHF's demands for mandatory condoms as a "fall back" in compliance with the potential law...and they would also be the most likely to cut corners for profits by offering their performers fly-by-night testing scams. Like, for instance, the quick and free OraSure OraQuick HIV swab tests made so famous by Mike South in his latest escapades.

Or, a fledgling porn producer could simply borrow some of South's mythical powers of reasoning and interviewing to clear a performer for shooting scenes, without all that need for actual testing.

Or...scared performers could just pull a Mr. Marcus and fake their tests in order to continue to shoot films and make money, because condoms would save them. Except, that they break, and they don't protect against all STI's.

Thusly, AHF and Izzy Hall create a wonderful illusion of safety, that covers up a free fire zone for performers. The big studios who will more than likely keep 14-day mandatory testing, but also be forced to include condoms, will survive as usual...though some will probably react by moving their businesses out of California altogether and taking their chances going underground in a less protected venue. The condom companies will get free placement and unwilling users, and will drown in the cash of respectability for "making safer sex hot". The medicos will fulfill their promise of using porn performers as unwitting guniea pigs for "safer sex". And, the communitarians will have one more piece of government regulation as a means of "behavior modification" and controlling a suspect population.

Whether this will actually do anything to reduce the pandemic of HIV or other STI's in the general population, or merely force performers into much less safe venues to fulfill their craft, or simply force them to quit and take their chances with less sexy exploitation, remains to be seen. Needless to say, considering how the current "sex trafficking" scare is now being used to suppress and slander sex workers and their clients, I have my doubts.

Sorry, Assemblyman Hall and Mr. Weinstein, but I'd much rather that performers themselves have the choice of how best to protect themselves, not be the unwilling and forced participants in a shell game.

AB1576, like all the other condom mandate bills before it, needs to be defeated. Like, yesterday.

1 comment:

  1. And what kind of "free test" does AHF use at its many locations around town (they've got more buildings in Hollywood than The Church of Scientology)? By an odd coincidence, it's the ELISA test.

    But of course, it's not like AHF uses the soon-to-be-termed-out Hall as a muppet in return for whatever considerations they may give him. They would NEVER do a thing like that. Their only concerns are performer and public safety - along with recruiting new clients, over-billing medicare, bribing snitches on the fringes of adult production and attempting to destroy anyone who gets in their way and, of course, selling their AHF-branded line of condoms.

    Once Hall's bill dies in committee they'll kick him to the curb as they have so many before him.