Image for Deconstructing the Disability Trump Card

Disabled people need access to “sex workers” is the cry I keep hearing. Poor, lonely men with disabilites lack “intimacy” and “skin to skin contact” is another.  It seems to me that arguments for disabled people’s “rights” to sexual access in the form of prostitution come mainly from non-disabled people to assuage their own conscience because they feel sad that disabled people don’t have sex, or are attempting to mitigate their own prejudices and personal distaste for the idea that disabled people are sexual beings at all. So either disabled people are infantilised by these people with the assumption that they can’t have sex, or they are considered not fully human and sexually pitiable.

Both positions are ableist and and discriminatory.

I am not the first person to be accused of bigotry for saying men with disabilities have no right to sex.  For the sake of my own sanity I will clarify here that I do not argue that disabled men do not have the right to buy women in prostitution but able-bodied men do , I insist that no person has the right to buy women in prostitution, at all, ever, for whatever reason. Period. I am also not writing about sex here,  I am here writing about the reality of prostitution.

Here is a quote from a male sex buyer that typifies the attitudes of men who buy women for sex:

“When you pay for sex you get a really different feeling from what you would get in a consensual relationship. You feel more powerful….everything is directed towards you and everything in the sex is to your standards….When you’re paying you don’t have that kind of stress of demand…You can just relax instead of trying to share the experience with someone else.” *

This quote exemplifies not only the sex-buyer but the attitude required for the sex-trade to exist in the first place.

Firstly, the sex-buyer knows the sex is not consensual. (In any other situation non-consensual sex is considered sexual assault.)

Secondly, it is clear that he enjoys the feeling of power he achieves.

And thirdly, not only does he think he is alone when he is using the woman he is buying for sex despite the fact she is there, he is relieved to think that he is. To him, she does not even fall under the category of another human being, she is not even someone else. Whatever sexual act he is doing to her, or she to him - he does not consider she is experiencing anything. This is the definition of being dehumanised.

It is all about him.

This is how he wants it and this is what he thinks he has a right to.

This is what the sex-trade tells us men have a right to, and increasingly, society in general thinks men have a right to.

The only thing unique about the male sex buyer quoted here is that he has a disability.

While he may live in and endure unique circumstances compared to an able-bodied man, in regards to his perception of women, he is exactly like every other man who uses women in prostitution. Whatever the particulars of his disability, like any other sex-buyer, his misogynist sense of entitlement to women’s bodies is not inhibited in the least.

Disability support services, with insidious and overt encouragement and endorsement from the sex-trade profiteers, are increasingly advocating the rights of men to pay for non-consensual sex with a dehumanised person.

I am a woman with a disability, a disability created by being bought and sold to men in the legal and illegal sex-trade. The disability I have was preventable. It is not congenital, it was not created through illness or disease or by accident. It was created because of male sexual entitlement to buy and use me for their sexual gratification.

I am part of the 68% of prostituted women who have acquired post-traumatic stress disorder as a result of paid sexual abuse. A 68% rate of PTSD is what women in the sex-trade have in common with torture survivors, and rape victims. Do we defend this rate of PTSD in the prostituted class as acceptable? At which rate do we find torture or rape acceptable? Is it not telling, that we are distinguished from survivors of torture and rape in every way except for in identical rates of PTSD? This same rate of PTSD is as a direct result of male violence. One of the facts about being prostituted is that one need not have a singular traumatic event occur to develop this highly debilitating condition, rather it is the daily reality of being sexually used by men for money. While physical acts of violence do indeed happen, many use the argument that men with disabilities are unlikely to be able to commit acts of physical violence. This argument does not carry any weight. If the bare minimum requirement for a job is not being beaten or murdered then our standards are reprehensibly low. The act of prostitution itself is violence, requiring dissociation at the very least. No matter how frequently we may hear from a few, more privileged, “Sex workers to the disabled”, some prostituted women openly admit that dissociation is normal.

Consider this seemingly innocuous statement from a self-described “sex worker” Celine - Not everyone can do this job but I know how to switch off.** The same woman talks about men being lonely and wanting intimacy, the same claim we hear from disability support agencies and pro- sex-trade profiteers alike. Yet Celine makes it quite clear she has to switch off. It is not possible to alleviate loneliness or create intimacy if one is dissociated. The claim that men who buy sex do so because they are lonely is obviously spurious. Men do it because they want to.

Murder rates of prostituted women are higher than for any other group of women in any other ‘job” and that rate increases if the prostituted are Indigenous and Women of Colour.  Capitulation to the decriminalisation of sex-byers reinforces and expands the reality of, and the tolerance for this violence to women. Prostitution is an act, where one person wants to have sex and the other person doesn’t (Ekis Ekman, 2013) Payment does not create consent it circumvents consent entirely. Again, what do we call sex without consent- we call it rape or sexual assault. PTSD is also what many other women with disabilities who have never been in the sex-trade and I have in common, because women with disabilities suffer the highest rates of male sexual violence whether in the sex-trade or out of it.

Consider also, the disability support worker who, with a duty of care, is required to assist men in sexually accessing a human being. She is forced in to a situation of supporting a system that expands male demand for sexual access to women in prostitution, a trade which 89- 98% of people want to exit. On top of that she must often be present and witness other people having sex. As Jacqueline Gwynne states in a recent article “In any other work place that would be considered sexual harassment.” People can develop secondary PTSD due to such harassment, risking significant harm to their quality of life, self-esteem and health, often leading to loss of income and breakdowns in personal relationships.

It is clear that using the argument for anyone to be able to buy sex is a misogynist one, but it is also an argument that accepts the creation of disability in another human being, in the case of support workers, they too are traumatised.

It is worth noting that the only “industry” where sexual harassment is tolerated is in prostitution. Yet disability support workers are now experiencing it too. How is this acceptable?

Do disabled men have a right to act on their misogyny? Is misogyny a human right? Because many people are insisting it is. To those who insist he is somehow entitled to use women sexually under the pretence of ameliorating his disabled condition, I ask who should have the right, (and who indeed if they care about human rights), would want to enshrine into law, that the treatment of women in this way is not only acceptable but useful, desirable, and healthy?

Within every class of persons is an underclass, even in the underclass there exists an underclass below that. That class is prostituted women.

People with disabilities suffer marginalisation and to use a term coined by Simone de Beauvoir, experience “othering”. As a minority, people with disabilities are “othered”, that is, their rights to full participation in society takes second place to those with the good fortune of being able-bodied.

Another man with a disability stated “I can’t go in to a nightclub and easily pull (a woman), although I have in certain circumstances, but I can’t do it easily

Here again we see not only the sense of entitlement, but it highlights that prostituted women are also “othered”. Women are categorised then as real women (the ones he can’t “pull”) and then there are the prostituted. This man can’t “pull” a woman who wants to have sex with him, so he feels entitled to pay for one of the “others”.

What we have is one group of disadvantaged people, mainly disabled men, whose alleged rights are being championed against the rights of an underclass of women, with the first group being entitled to paid sexual access to the second.

No person denied sex will develop PTSD or any other disability due to that lack of sex . The majority of the prostituted on the other hand, do develop PTSD, on top of the many other dangers and risks that come with the territory of being bought and sold.

Disability either matters to us as humanity or it does not. Are we as society willing to create preventable disability in one class of human beings in order to afford another class of human beings sexual access? Are we willing to put one group of disadvantaged people’s sexual wants above to the human rights of another? Do all children and women have the right to be free from sexual coercion and abuse? Do we really think that long-term disability imposed on the prostituted class is a disability that is acceptable? Because this is what we commit to when we commit to male sexual entitlement.

*(Liddiard, 2014)
**Celine, doc, ABC Open
*** Myth: Disabled Men have a Right to Prostitutes, Jacqueline Gywnne

*Simone Watson is National Director of Nordic Model Australia Coalition, NorMAC, Indigenous Survivor of prostitution and domestic violence and contributing author of the recently released book Prostitution Narratives: Stories of Survival in the Sex Trade.