By Vanessa Brown
WHEN Fleur first started working in the sex industry, receiving a phone call from a parent or guardian on behalf of a potential client was “unusual”.
“It’s not an experience that many people have to go through, arranging a sexual experience on the behalf of someone else,” she told news.com.au.
Miss Fleur, as she calls herself, became a sex worker at 18. Ten years later, she’s built up a diverse client base, including many people with disabilities.
“In a lot of ways, there’s no difference,” Fleur said of her clients. “I’m dealing with adults who have a fantasy that they haven’t been able to explore. The main thing that’s different is that sometimes, but not always, appointments are facilitated through parents or carers.
“Carers listen to their clients and take their needs seriously. But it’s not that these people are arranging appointments without consent. They are doing it on the instruction of the person with the disability.”
Rachel Wotton is a sex worker who works with people with disabilities.
About 4 million Australians, or one in five people, are living with a disability. More than million of these people are aged between 15 and 64.
In Australia and overseas, disability advocacy groups are trying to raise awareness about disabled people and sex.
Veteran sex worker Rachel Wotton is one of the co-founders of Touching Base, an organisation that allows people with disabilities to connect with sex workers.
She says the stigma surrounding the sex lives of people with disabilities is disheartening.
“It’s ridiculous. Just because someone can’t walk the same way as others, or doesn’t have the same technique to use their voice, doesn’t mean they haven’t got the same sexual desires as other people,” Ms Wotton told news.com.au.
“We are sexual human beings. How dare someone tell another person how they should or should not feel. The most beautiful thing about skin to skin contact is the idea of being.
“People need to move away from the idea that sex is intercourse. Our sexuality is expressed in many different ways,” said Ms Wotton, who has worked in the industry for more than 20 years and was featured in the documentary Scarlet Road.
Rachel’s client John died in November 2011. They both appeared in the documentary Scarlet Road.
Her clients live with a wide range of disabilities. One of her regulars, 61-year-old Colin Wright, came from a family that didn’t talk about sex. In the SBS documentary I Have Cerebral Palsy and I Enjoy Having Sex, Colin revealed that he found his first sexual partner through a carer.
“There was a lady who I felt close to so, one day, while we were alone, I asked Kerry if she would organise for me to visit a lady,” he told SBS. “To my surprise, straight away, she said ‘yes’.”
Ms Wotton says this is common in her line of work.
“Imagine if you had to ring your mother or carer and say ‘this is what I’d like to do, can you help me?’” Ms Wotton said.
“Imagine the fear of opening up about your sexual desires, as a middle-aged man or woman, to your family. Some of the parents have been amazing, and really work through this stigma. It’s very brave of them.”
Colin Wright is a client of Rachel Wotton.
When a carer or parent contacts a sex worker or sex work organization, they must provide the worker with complete consent from the client before the appointment can be scheduled.
“If someone’s father organises for me to see their adult son, I don’t care if he has paid me money. I’m going to make sure my client is consenting to the services,” she said.
“The only person who can give consent is the very person themselves. No one can give consent on their behalf.
“Some clients will contact me directly. Otherwise it’s parents or carers or support workers contacting on behalf of someone.”
Ms Wotton says the same protocols apply to any other service.
“It’s like any other appointment. The client is asking for available times, payment options, letting them know if it’s a home appointment and we discuss the disability of the client.
“The appointment is set up exactly the same as if they were ringing up for a dental appointment, hairdressing appointment or a tattoo,” she said.
“Of course people are nervous, because they have to speak with a sex worker and because of the myths around the industry. But once they talk to us, they see that we are general members of society like anyone else.”
Rachel Wotton has been a sex worker for over 20 years.
Ms Wotton and her colleagues will spend a good percentage of the discussion talking about what they can and can’t do with their clients.
“There is a stigma around sex work that we will do anything. That’s not true. We are negotiating, it’s a mutually consensual adult activity,” she said.
“People often think that if they can’t verbalise yes or no, they can’t give consent. That’s just ridiculous because there are so many ways that people can communicate. There’s boards, eye movement, nodding heads, hand signals, apps and even iPads.
“We know how people consent when they understand what services and experiences they are consenting to. They have the right to withdraw consent, and that’s for the sex worker as well.
“The sexual desires of those with a disability are in line with the rest of society. It’s as far as their imaginations go.”
Fleur says more education is needed about the sex lives of disabled people.
“Adults with disabilities have all the same needs and desires as anyone else,” she said.
“I think people should take a moment to think about their own lives, and if their needs and desires would change if they became disabled. We are only a car accident away from it.”
Rachel uses a board with her late client, Mark.
Touching Base is a charitable organisation that requires support from the public to continue their work. More information can be found here.
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