News Sexual Health

Porn Actor Jailed for Spreading Syphilis

Martha Kempner

In a rare move, a porn actor was jailed for spreading syphilis to his co-stars. His attorney argues that he is the victim of political posturing.

Last week in Los Angeles adult film star Jesse Spencer, who is known in the porn industry as Mr. Marcus, was sentenced to 30 days in jail, 36 months of probation, and 15 hours of community labor for spreading a sexually transmitted infection (STI) to two female co-stars. Most states have laws that say partners must disclose known STIs before having sex, but very few people ever face criminal charges—though civil suits are more common.

In this case, prosecutors argued that Spencer was diagnosed on July 13 of last year and therefore knew he had syphilis when he shot sex scenes with the actresses between July 26 and August 7. They charged him with exposing another to a communicable disease. Spencer claims, however, that this is not the case as he was given a shot of penicillin when he was diagnosed and reasonably believed that he had been cured by the time filming began.

Spencer’s lawyer, Martin Cutler, thinks that his client is caught in a political battle over Measure B, the ordinance passed by voters last year that requires actors in adult films shot in Los Angeles to wear condoms on set. The city is working out the details of how to enforce this law, and Cutler believes prosecutors are using this case a cautionary tale in the hopes it will convince actors to police themselves.

A third actress is suing Spencer in civil court, where such cases are more likely, but still difficult, to prove. For example, a New York woman sued Arnold Simon, a former Calvin Klein CEO, claiming that he gave the woman herpes after the two met through an online dating service. The woman was awarded $5 million, but attorney Matthew Blit, whose firm represented her, said such victories are hard fought: “[I]t’s a very tricky area because it has to do with the disclosure of medical records and we can face a very big challenge. They are very difficult to win. The facts need to align perfectly.”

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Spencer’s lawyer believes that in his cases the facts do not align, and he plans to argue that his client was not infected at the time of the film shoot. It remains to be seen whether that argument plays better in civil court than it did in his criminal trial.

News Sexual Health

Porn Stars Will Head Back to Work With New Rules and No Condom Law

Martha Kempner

Despite the recent HIV outbreak among porn stars, a bill to require condoms on set died in the California senate. So porn stars will head back to work on Friday without condoms, but with new STD testing rules.

The question of whether condoms should be mandatory on all porn sets has gotten a lot of attention in the last few weeks as a number of adult film stars have tested positive for HIV. Advocates have pointed to the outbreak as proof that the industry cannot monitor itself, while industry insiders have insisted that its actors are safe on set without any outside interference or mandates. This week, the industry came out ahead when a bill that would have required condoms on set died in committee and the industry announced that filming would start again on Friday under new rules to better police itself. Advocates, however, are not convinced that the new rules will be enough and vow that the bill will be introduced again in the next legislative session.

As Rewire has reported, the porn industry halted production in August when actress Cameron Bay announced she had tested positive for HIV. The moratorium was lifted when all her on-screen partners tested negative. Then, earlier this month, Rod Daily, a star of gay porn movies who was in a romantic relationship with Bay, announced he had also tested positive. Though his announcement did not trigger a pause in production, because he was not tested through official channels and was not on set, a third unnamed star also tested HIV-positive, forcing the cameras off again. (A fourth case also made news last week, though there are mixed reports as to whether this case has been confirmed.)

Activists took to the media to argue that porn actors are in danger on set and will not be safe until condoms are required. Last year, the activists, led by the AIDS Healthcare Foundation, got a measure on the ballot in Los Angeles County that would require actors in all permitted adult films to wear condoms. The Safer Sex in the Adult Film Industry Act, known as Measure B, was passed by an overwhelming majority of voters last year despite threats from producers that they would simply take their operations—and tax dollars—elsewhere. The measure has yet to be enforced, in part because of a legal challenge (that was settled in favor of Measure B in August) and in part because the county simply can’t quite figure out how to implement it.

This year, the AIDS Healthcare Foundation turned its attention to the statehouse in order to extend the measure statewide, and thwart producers who said they would just move their filming to other parts of the state. AB 640 was introduced by Assemblymember Isadore Hall III (D-Los Angeles) in March. It would have required the “provision of and required use of condoms and other protective barriers whenever acts of vaginal or anal intercourse are filmed,” as well as the provision of condom-safe lubricants to facilitate the use of condoms. The bill would have also required producers to pay for sexually transmitted disease (STD) testing, provide hepatitis B vaccines free-of-charge to all actors, and create a written health and safety plan. Interestingly, though condoms are required to be worn, the bill specifically notes that the bill “shall not be construed to require condoms, barriers, or other personal protective equipment to be visible in the final product of an adult film.”

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The bill died in the Senate Rules Committee as the legislative session came to an end, the Los Angeles Daily News reported Friday night. Though it is not clear exactly what happened at the closed-door meeting, the AIDS Healthcare Foundation has accused Assemblyman Mike Gatto (D-Los Angeles), who publicly opposed the bill, of putting a hold on it and not letting the bill out of the committee. The organization called Gatto “a pornographer’s best friend.” Gatto scoffed at this and said he did not have nearly as much power as was attributed to him. In a statement to LA Weekly, he said, “It’s clear that AHF is trying to bully the legislature into spending taxpayer money, and that they don’t understand the legislative process. I would expect that Isadore Hall would explain to them that AB 640 is not before me, it’s before the Senate. There are two houses of government, and I don’t have a vote in the Senate, let alone control it.”

The industry, on the other hand, gave credit for its victory to a coalition of supporters. Diane Duke—CEO of the Free Speech Coalition, the trade organization that monitors STDs on set—said in a statement, “A number of people put forth a great deal of effort, to make sure this bill would not see the light of day. From our coalition partners to the performers and countless industry members who showed up in Sacramento to protest, we owe you all a debt of gratitude. This was truly a team effort, thank you.”

She added, “Thankfully, science won over scare tactics. Three performers did test positive for HIV in the past month, but none of them contracted it on an adult set. Politicians tried to use concern about HIV to push through a mandate opposed by both performers and producers.”

On Monday, Duke’s organization announced new rules for monitoring STDs on set. The new rules will require STD testing every 14 days, rather than every 28 days. Though this may help detect certain STDs sooner, the rule may not have had an impact on the current HIV outbreak, as it can take up to eight weeks post-infection for HIV to be detectable. Duke also noted that her organization needed to do a better job of helping performers learn how to protect themselves on and off set.

News Sexual Health

Porn Pause: Moratorium on Filming Imposed When Adult Actress Tests Positive for HIV

Martha Kempner

Just a few days after a judge ruled Los Angeles' on-set condom requirement constitutional, the industry had to deal with the news that one of its actresses tested positive for HIV.

The debate over condoms, sexually transmitted diseases (STDs), and pornography is flaring up once again in Los Angeles. Just a few days after a judge ruled the city’s on-set condom requirement constitutional, the industry had to deal with the news that one of its actresses tested positive for HIV.

A 28-year-old actress who uses the screen name Cameron Bay went in for her monthly STD screening in August—an industry requirement—and was told that her results were inconclusive. A second test revealed that she was, in fact, HIV-positive. Bay had tested negative on July 27, but that test may have been done during the “window period”— the time between becoming infected with HIV and developing antibodies that can be detected by the test. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, most people develop antibodies within two to eight weeks of being infected (the average time is 25 days), but it can take longer. Therefore, it is hard to pinpoint when Bay was infected and whether she contracted the virus on-set.

A trade organization known as the Free Speech Coalition monitors STDs for the adult-film industry. Per industry policies, the coalition announced a nationwide moratorium on filming, first until Bay’s test results were confirmed and then until her partners could be notified and tested. The news has heated up a contentious battle between industry insiders who claim they are willing and capable of policing themselves and public health advocates who say actors are in danger.

The industry began monitoring STDs in 1998 after several porn actresses sued producers when they became infected with HIV on-set. In response, producers banded together and created the Adult Industry Medical Healthcare Foundation (AIM), which was essentially a nonprofit clinic that offered health tests to performers and kept a record of the results. Producers also agreed not to hire any performer who hadn’t been given a clean bill of health in the last 30 days. The industry also agreed to shut downs while the clinic investigated any positive HIV tests. This happened for a month in 2004, when performers tested positive, and again in 2011, when what turned out to be a false-positive test stopped production for a few days. In 2010, the City of Los Angeles shut down the clinic for not being properly licensed, and the Free Speech Coalition took over the job of monitoring STD test results (the agency provided actors with a list of participating clinics where they could get tested).

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Industry insiders believe this system is working and point out that since 2004 only six performers have contracted HIV. Public health advocates, however, argue that the job remains too risky and note that other STDs run rampant among actors. According to the Los Angeles Department of Health, about 25 percent of performers are diagnosed with an STD each year, and rates of chlamydia and gonorrhea are seven times higher among porn actors than in the general population.

A number of organizations led by the AIDS Healthcare Foundation took matters into their own hands over the last few years and managed to get a measure put on the ballot in Los Angeles County that would require actors in all permitted adult films to wear condoms. The Safer Sex in the Adult Film Industry Act, known as Measure B, was passed by an overwhelming majority of voters last year despite threats from producers that they would simply take their operations—and tax dollars—elsewhere.

Though it passed last November, the measure was not instantly implemented as the county struggled with how to enforce it. Then, in January, two production companies (Vivid Entertainment and Califa Production) and two porn actors (Kayden Kross and Logan Pierce) sued the county to prevent the law from taking effect. County officials declined to defend the law in court, but the AIDS Healthcare Foundation was granted “intervener” status and stepped in to defend Measure B. On August 16, a federal judge ruled that the law was constitutional and could be implemented. U.S. District Judge Dean Pregerson said the new law seeks to alleviate those harmed in a direct and material way. Vivid Entertainment says it will appeal the decision.

The production company may find that supporters are harder to come by now, as fewer than ten days after the decision was handed down HIV rocked the industry again and the cameras stopped rolling. In the meantime, Cameron Bay has had to cope with a life-changing diagnosis and a lot of publicity. She told her fans on Twitter, “I’m still coming to terms with all this but thanks to everyone showing love I feel stronger than ever.”