Saturday, September 8, 2012

KENYA: Exposed! A high-risk porn business

NAIROBI, - The US adult film industry was brought to a virtual standstill recently after an actor tested HIV-positive and all his sexual partners were tested for the virus. There are no such precautions in Kenya's porn industry, where actors usually perform without a condom or routine HIV testing.

"I don't know my HIV status and I can't say I know that of the men we act with," said Angela*, who recently made the switch from eight years of street-based sex work to acting in local porn films. "I know it is a dangerous thing I am doing, but I console myself that it is the same people all the time we act with in the videos... at times, doing it without a condom might give you extra pay."

Kenya's local porn industry, once limited to photography, has grown in recent years. DVD peddlers surreptitiously hawk films on street corners while some producers and distributors have created adult web sites and even clubs where audiences can watch films or witness live sex acts. More profitable than street- or bar-based sex work, acting in porn films is an attractive option for many young men and women struggling to make ends meet in the capital, Nairobi.

Producing, trafficking or performing in pornographic films is illegal in Kenya under section 181 of the penal code, and is punishable by a prison sentence of up to two years.
According to one producer and distributor who preferred anonymity, this makes it difficult to regulate health and safety in the industry.

"We encourage people to test for HIV but it's not mandatory, and even when they do get tested, we have no way of knowing that the papers they bring are genuine," he said. "Sometimes one participant will agree to go for a test and the other won't; because we are working on deadlines, we often just get them to do it live [without a condom]."

He added that while he encouraged condom use, the actors were often drunk when they performed and protecting themselves against HIV was not high on their list of priorities. "Sometimes they say the styles they want to use are not condom-friendly - it's really up to the actors if they want to use them," he said.

Unlike the US, where porn stars can make thousands of dollars, local actors earn between US$70 and $150 per film, according to the producer. For many of the girls, this means they need a second job.
Veronica*, 19, does sex work when video work is slow. "You know videos don't come every day so when they are not available, I continue with my work as a prostitute," she said. "When I am working as a prostitute I use condoms all the time with my clients but you know in acting, it is not automatic... I have never thought of it as that risky, you know."

Although there are no figures for HIV prevalence among those working in Kenya's porn industry, sex workers and their partners are considered a “most at-risk population”, accounting for an estimated 14 percent of new infections annually. They can also act as a bridge for the spread of HIV into the general population.

"The men I act with in the videos are colleagues... my boyfriend doesn't know what I do and I would never want him to know," Angela said, adding that if he ever found out, the relationship would be over.

The government, which has this year increased its focus on most at-risk populations, has started targeting sex workers for HIV prevention. It is also conducting a “risk factor analysis” of these groups to better understand their risks and how to address them.

"Many of the people who take part in adult films are commercial sex workers from what we know, so I think they can greatly benefit from prevention programmes that target commercial sex workers and other most at-risk populations," said Nicholas Muraguri, head of the National AIDS and Sexually transmitted infections Control Programme. "Maybe what needs to be done is to educate them and emphasize to them the need to first test for HIV and [practise] consistent condom use in whatever it is they are doing."

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