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My most recent film, The God Who Wasn't There, is available on DVD at the official site and elsewhere.

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THIS ENTRY:
Lara Roxx, who is too young to legally drink in a bar, has HIV not just because she participated in a dangerous sex act. She also has HIV because there was nobody to stop the producers from dangling money and other inducements in front of this young woman to get her to take that risk. It's important for porn to be legal. The government has no business outlawing sex or sexual fantasy. But this principle is not so sacred that we need to allow an industry to exploit and endanger its workers. There's no fundamental right to express HIV. There's no right to pay someone to play Russian roulette for your entertainment.


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April 16, 2004

Let them eat HIV: Who failed Lara Roxx?

Warning: graphic descriptions in this post.

Gee, who would have thought that having two strange men jam their un-condomed penises into a woman's rectum at the same time might give her a whopping case of HIV?

I mean, if you were trying to contract HIV, isn't this just about the best way to do it? Not just anal sex with one strange man. But two. And at the same time, so as to maximize the tearing of tissue and get that virus transferred.

Short of a direct injection of a stranger's blood with a needle, I can't think of a method with better HIV-contraction odds than a bareback double-anal encounter.

Yet the state of California allowed a teenage girl to participate in just this activity as part of her job. No regulation was violated. No boss is likely to be held accountable.

And now the young woman, Lara Roxx (aka Laura Roxx, Lana Roxx and Lara Coxx), who began her career in porn three months ago, has HIV. (See Adult Video News story--graphics on site not safe for work.)

She got it from fellow performer Darren James. The porn industry has its own scheme of HIV testing and reporting, but it is far from perfect. HIV tests lag behind the bug itself by as many as 60 days. A porn performer can have a lot of high-risk sex in 60 days--with people who also have a whole lot of sex.

An industry doctor estimates Darren James was infected on March 10 on a trip to Brazil. Back in L.A., James had a routine HIV test on March 17--but it didn't detect the infection. Then he worked. Twelve porn actresses, now "voluntarily quarantined" according to AVN, are on the "first generation" list, meaning James penetrated them without protection. Lara Roxx is one of those twelve. None of the others have tested positive--yet. They won't know for sure until June. The second generation, who had sex with one of the twelve in the first generation, is also voluntarily quarantined. (The Adult Industry Medical Health Care Foundation has a quarantine list. I offer no link because the overwhelmed A.I.M. has requested not to receive calls or website visits from civilians "so adult entertainers can get through and get accurate information." If that's you, just enter "Adult Industry Medical Health Care Foundation" in a search engine to get there.)

AVN has recommended a moratorium (site nsfw) on production, and some companies may comply. But none has to. There aren't any regulations that say so, just as there weren't any regulations to prevent Lara Roxx from being infected with HIV as part of her workplace duties. There is nobody (with legal authority, at least) even to say to the industry, "You idiots. Start using condoms at the very least."

A word about government regulation: I've directed and produced two feature films within the county of Los Angeles, which is another way of saying I have a very hostile attitude toward government regulation of motion picture production. I have hired government employees to sit around doing nothing, because that's what the rules said I had to do. I've paid permit fees that were more than my production costs for an average day's shoot. I've declined to shoot scenes in L.A. because of indie-unfriendly regulations.

But even a ROTIO (Republican On This Issue Only) like me can acknowledge that some regulation makes sense.

When I shot a scene for Nothing So Strange in which a character gets shot in the head, the action required a "squib" explosion: The effects artist put a metal plate on the back of the actor's head. On top of that plate went a small explosive charge. On top of that charge went a grisly packet of fake blood, brains and hair. At the appointed time in the action of the scene, the effects artist pushed a button to trigger the explosive, and, boom, big old mess.

In order to shoot this scene legally (which I did), I had to hire a pyrotechnician licensed by the state. I also had to hire a county fire marshal, who monitored the pyrotechnician and had the authority to stop any behavior deemed unsafe. If you add in the city cops I was legally required to retain for crowd control, the actors and crew on my set had three levels of protection provided by government agencies.

If, in my zeal to get a better scene, I had tried to persuade the pyro to make the explosive charge larger than was safe, he probably wouldn't have done it--his license would have been at risk. If he decided to take the risk to please me (perhaps so I'd hire him again), the fire marshal was there to keep him honest. And if I tried to stage the scene in another way that put the actors or crew in danger, the police officers present would have stopped me.

Lara Roxx had zero protection by government agencies. There was no cop on that set. No fire marshal. No doctor. Nobody had a license. And nobody broke the law by paying a teenager to accept the uncovered penises of two men into her anus.

Roxx showed poor judgment, yes. She isn't blameless. But there are plenty of neophyte stunt performers in L.A. who would also be delighted to show some poor judgment and get themselves hurt or killed on a Hollywood movie set--but the government regulates those sets. I've auditioned plenty of eager young actors who would no doubt be willing to do their own dangerous stunts if it meant getting a good role and getting paid--but the LAPD, the LAFD and the Screen Actors Guild would all have something to say about that.

The 18-year-olds flooding into the porn industry have just about nobody. The porn companies label them "independent contractors," so the performers don't even have the workplace safety protections that fry cooks at Burger King do.

Lara Roxx, who is too young to legally drink in a bar, has HIV not just because she participated in a dangerous sex act. She also has HIV because there was nobody to stop the producers from dangling money and other inducements in front of this young woman to get her to take that risk.

It's important for porn to be legal. The government has no business outlawing sex or sexual fantasy. But this principle is not so sacred that we need to allow an industry to exploit and endanger its workers. There's no fundamental right to express HIV. There's no right to pay someone to play Russian roulette for your entertainment.

But we Californians have decided that the sex industry is the one industry that is allowed to lure young women and men and use them as it pleases. No politician speaks for these workers. No union imposes conditions on their employers.

And the mainstream film industry, while making billions from distributing porn on the QT, doesn't have any use for the dirty people who actually make it. How does Hollywood bible Variety view the terror of the Darren James-associated sex performers waiting right now to find out if they have the virus that causes AIDS? As the inspiration for a whimsical headline: "Porn biz goes soft after HIV scare."

There were not, as I recall, similar headlines striking a light-hearted tone about Brandon Lee, who died in an accident on the set of The Crow, or about Christopher Reeves' hilarious paralysis, or that nutty stroke Kirk Douglas suffered.

* * *

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(You can view and leave comments now by clicking here, or use the link below at the end of the entry.)

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UPDATE 4-29-04: Jessica Dee tests HIV+

UPDATE 4-25-04: Larry Flynt resists regulation
flynt
Hustler publisher Larry Flynt says, "The industry's approach to HIV safety is working." He's wrong. And the sex workers who are currently so ill-treated in his industry do matter. Instead of fighting the inevitable, Larry Flynt should be using his position in the industry to fight for them.

UPDATE 4-24-04: New York Times: Sex Videos on Pause, and Idled Actors Fret. So-so overview of the crisis, focusing on performers. Neither Lara Roxx nor Darren James interviewed.

UPDATE 4-19-04: At first AVN reported that Lara Roxx was "either 18 or 19 years old." Then other publications put her age at 18. Then, after the entry above was written, other sources put her age at 21 and others at 22. An AVN story on Roxx linked below says she was a dancer in Canada for three years, which I assume would make her age at least 21. However, some sources continue to report her age as 18.

UPDATE 4-17-04: AVN says that, contrary to a mistaken report, Dynasty has not tested HIV+. She is, however, on the first generation "A" list. Link (nsfw)

Mark Kernes at AVN has this article just up today: "Lara Roxx: 'I thought porn people were the cleanest people in the world'" (site nsfw). Excerpts:

CHATSWORTH, Calif. - Lara Roxx, the first innocent victim of the HIV firestorm sweeping through the adult industry, never wanted to be the center of attention.

When she arrived in L.A. in mid-March from Montreal, on a ticket paid for with borrowed funds, her short brown hair streaked with pink, all she wanted to do was perform in enough scenes to create a nest-egg that she could take back to Canada and use to go on with her life.

Instead, she’s now broke, jobless and had been staying with friends, and if the tests come back Saturday evening as she’s hoping they won’t, HIV-positive.

[...]

“When I first walked into Daniel Perrault’s office, I told him what I was ready to do, and he told me he wasn’t ready to represent me under those conditions,” Roxx stated on April 16. “I told him I wasn’t interested in anal at all, and I was a little freaky about the no-condom thing, too. I’m educated about the STDs since I’m in grade 3. I was educated about condoms. I knew I didn’t want any STDs. I was protecting myself in the proper ways to not catch STDs, the ways I was taught.”

But though she’d been a dancer for three years, Roxx wasn’t very familiar with the adult video industry, and she admits that later, when she decided to accept offers to do scenes in L.A., Perrault advised her that he thought she was too innocent to survive the U.S. porn scene.

[...]


“When Daniel told me that Darren James was HIV positive, it totally freaked me out,” Roxx said. “It totally made me realize how I trusted this system that wasn’t to be trusted at all, because it obviously doesn’t work.

“We should think about these issues right now, to change stuff around to make this a safer fuckin’ business. It isn’t a safe business, and I thought it was, and I would have not did that scene with no condom with Darren James if it would have crossed my mind that those tests weren’t good and that I couldn’t trust him or the people he’s been with. I thought porn people were the cleanest people in the world, is what I thought.”

And Dan Miller of AVN speaks with one of Darren James' closest friends, fellow performer Mark Antony (site nsfw). Excerpt:

Anthony continued, "I've known Darren for seven years and over that time he's become one of my best friends. I'm very sad about this whole situation that's going on and definitely I want to go on the record saying Darren is a good guy. He doesn't drink. He doesn't do any drugs. He's not gay and he doesn't do anything with transsexuals."

Anthony and James have traveled to both Canada and Brazil to perform and have also performed on the same set in Los Angeles several times. Anthony described their most recent trip to Brazil, where it is thought that James contracted the virus, was "pretty much business as usual."

"What I would say is that I've heard those comments that Brazil is a high-risk place for HIV and so I went on the Internet and did some research and I found out there's more cases of HIV in the U.S. than in Brazil so if Brazil is high risk, the U.S. is a higher risk," Anthony said.

OTHER OUTSIDE LINKS RELATED TO THIS STORY:

Safe for work:

L.A. Observed has a roundup of stories.

The L.A. Times has a story and a good graphic showing the "Pyramid of potential infection" (reg. req'd.).

The paper of the San Fernando Valley, the Los Angeles Daily News:

"We're in really good shape as far as containment. This is early detection," said Mitchell, who worked in the industry for 25 years before earning a Ph.D. in human sexuality and helping establish the health center.

But that was little comfort to Randi Wright, an 18-year old North Hills woman who began appearing in adult films a month ago to pay college tuition. On Monday she filmed a scene with an actor who is on the second-generation list.

The tasteful and sensitive New York Post: " The porn industry was shaken to its sleazy core yesterday..."

Adult Industry Medical Health Care Foundation: Has latest quarantine list and other links. [UPDATE: Link de-activated. They're slammed and have requested only adult entertainers use the website for now.]

Not safe for work:

A good, if self-congratulatory, multi-source AVN story, "HIV: The Industry’s Response." Excerpts:

Director Skeeter Kerkove, who has shot James in the past, told AVN.com that he has stopped production completely.

"I have already cancelled 40 sex scenes, I’ve cancelled five movies completely, everything for the rest of this month and all of May," Kerkove said.

Kerkove, who boasts that he has never shot a scene that wasn’t anal, said that much of the talent he had booked was still willing to perform.

"I was actually surprised that people still wanted to work," he said. "I had several people tell me that they knew so-and-so wasn’t on the list, and I let one of them know that they were wrong, that the person [they were referring to] was exposed – on my set.

[...]

Performer Gia Paloma, who was in the AVN offices a week ago to drop off a new title, Gia Has a Negro Problem – which has her on the cover with Darren James – said she won’t be working for a couple months.

"At least a couple months, if just mentally, because it fucks you up," she told AVN.com. "Is $1600 really worth cutting my life by 50 years? There’s no reason anyone should risk their life for a few bucks. You have to take a look at yourself and ask what you’re worth."

Paloma also noted that she is still being asked to work and that one company in particular had been particularly insistent.

AVN Online has "Webmasters React To HIV Scare: 'Everyone Is At Risk.'" Excerpt:

However, Sechrest does not support the moratorium. "I don't think there is any reason to halt production of any medium," he noted. "I think if anyone is concerned about their health, they should use a condom. It is preposterous to think that halting production for 60 days is going to [clear] the industry of the virus so things can go back to the way they were before, as if it can't happen again.

"Performers will always have recreational sex outside of the business. We've just been lucky so far. You tell me what is safer: using a condom or a using a test that is at least less than 30 days old."

Fleshbot, the porn blog, has an early roundup and an update.

Pornblography has a missive from an insider: "I know for a fact that there’s another first-generation girl who worked with Darren, in a DP scene nonetheless, and isn’t on any of the quarantine lists. Why? Because her pimp won’t tell her about it, and won’t acknowledge to anybody that she exists. He knows she worked with Darren. He don’t care. Luckily her short run of making movies is over and she’s back in whatever hole she crawled out of."

Luke Ford: Blog of insider news and opinion. No permalinks, but scroll down for many posts related to the HIV scare.

"AVN is collecting donations to assist Ms. Roxx, and also posts news that adult film star Jenna Jameson has launched a fundraising campaign to help porn industry workers suffering financial hardships from both the quarantine and the production moratorium." (from Boing Boing)

Random blog link to illustrate it-can't-happen-to-me attitude, Calblog: "It is a tragedy, but the fact of the matter is that Roxx likely contracted HIV from James due to the simultaneous anal partners - not any traditional heterosexual behavior." What the hell is "traditional heterosexual behavior"?

(NOTE: Since originally posted, this entry has been revised numerous times.)





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