We shouldn’t be paying for NDIS recipients to see sex workers
AS news rolled out of the Administrative Appeals Tribunal's recent decision to approve sex therapy for NDIS clients, there were cheers of triumph from sex worker and disability advocates - many of whom called for the scheme to also include access to sex workers.
Reading through their comments, I thought back to a recent article I read of a self-confessed 'queer cripple' who, after years of being put down for his body, decided to begin using male escorts. As I read through his account of the devastating emotional impact that came from years of being treated with disgust, labelled 'retarded,' and sexually passed on, I wholeheartedly empathised with why this person, like many others, would see sex workers as his only avenue for sexual gratification.
So, it may come as a surprise to admit that despite this, I just can't get on board with the AAT's decision to approve sex therapy - and potentially, taxpayer funded sexual services.
As someone who has spent much of the past decade writing and researching about the sex trade, as well as personally listening to stories from survivors, I could tell you countless stories of heartbreak and anguish from women harmed through both the legal and illegal sex trade. More so, however, I could tell you of the many survivors who feel the NDIS sex-therapy scheme is akin to a giant slap in the face - particularly given the mental and physical harm they have experienced while providing the very services deemed a 'human right' for sex buyers.
As explained by Dr Caroline Norma, lecturer in the School of Global, Urban and Social Studies at RMIT University, this is a battle that sex industry survivors have been up against for decades.
"For 20 years, I've heard stories from survivors in Australia who have been unable to qualify for disability support payments, and instead left with nowhere to turn for assistance with leaving the sex industry and recovering from its physical and mental harmful effects," she says.
"Many prostituted women leave the industry with mental health problems, and so prostitution creates disability rather than relieves it," she says. "[This scheme] is nonsensical …"
It was a sentiment shared with me by several former-sex industry survivors. Women like Joanne and Charlotte, both of whom still live with severe trauma and mental health issues despite key differences in their journeys and time spent in the industry.
"For a government to condone this, would be absolutely appalling," stated Charlotte, who lives in the United States and survived being trafficked by her own parents from the ages of 12 to 21. "Also, at what point has access to sex with another person ever been a human right?"
"Sure, a person has the right to masturbate in order to release sexual tension, but how is physical intimacy with another a 'right' rather than a privilege?"
Likewise, Joanne also lives with ongoing trauma from the few years she spent as a private escort in the Australian sex industry. "[My time in the industry] definitely worsened my complex PTSD," says the now 29-year-old. "It isn't a topic that is easily spoken about - even with health professionals like psychologists - as it carries a lot of shame … And despite being on a disability support pension for my mental health conditions, I have been denied both times when applying for the NDIS," she reveals.
"Even with a specialised NDIS worker allocated by a mental health service to assist people in applying, I was still unsuccessful."
From speaking with experts in the NDIS industry, I soon discovered this is a sadly common occurrence.
"In the past two years, I have only seen two of my clients approved for NDIS psychotherapy," shared an NDIS registered psychotherapist named 'Ms Anderson.' A fellow survivor of the sex industry, the mental health worker says she is concerned not only for those formerly in the industry, but "also those who are still victims of the commercial sex trade - those who are suffering from the likes of PTSD and unable to get the help they need," she says.
"The decision by NDIS [regarding] sex therapy-work is absolutely insane."
While the jury is still out about whether or not the sex-therapy scheme will rule out the inclusion of sex worker services (NDIS are appealing the AAT's decision via the Federal Court), the reality is this: despite the narrative of sex worker advocates, sexual gratification via another person is not a human right - regardless of whether you're fully-abled or live with a disability. Equally important, however, is the realisation that women like Charlotte and Joanne are not a minority.
Indeed, one of the largest scale studies discovered that, of the 450 men, women, and transgender folks surveyed across five countries, 92 per cent wanted to immediately exit. A further 67 per cent met criteria for a diagnosis of PTSD.
While I do believe that people with a disability have a right to experience satisfying sexual experiences and find ways to release sexual tension, just like able-bodied persons, this should not be achieved through the purchase of another person's body and at the expense of their mental health.
Nor should it be funded by taxpayers.
"On one hand it is important to acknowledge that people living with disabilities face added barriers to having a sex life and being intimate with people," agrees Joanne. "But conversely, when the system is failing to provide adequate access to basic services like psychological support or cover many other debilitating disabilities; it seems to throw another contradiction into the mess."
Opinions on the sex industry aside, if the NDIS is going to give a green light to sex therapy and the inclusion of sex-worker services, the very least they can do is address the multitudes of harm done to those within the industry. They must make it their priority to remove the obstacles preventing survivors, or those currently within the sex industry, from receiving the mental health support they require in exchange for 'servicing' the sexual desires of others.
Because at the end of the day, the people who are most in need of support, are those who have been harmed by this very industry. The millions who spend every day fighting against their own minds. Women like Charlotte and Joanne, who you may never meet, yet deserve to be seen as humans; not products for 'sexual release.'
Jas Rawlinson is a Brisbane author, freelance journalist, and writing coach, who specialises in empowering survivors of trauma to transform their adversities into powerful memoirs. Connect with Jas via her website www.jasrawlinson.com.