Disabled seek sex life choice

MICHELLE COOKE
Last updated 05:00 09/11/2012
Fairfax NZ

Australian sex worker Rachel Wotton has established a charitable organisation that matches sex workers with people with disabilities.

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New Zealand needs a formalised service to help disabled people find sex, not just for pleasure but also for their health, those working in the disability and sex sectors say.

Male sex worker and activist Saul Isbister left New Zealand in the mid-1990s and headed to New South Wales, where he helped establish Touching Base with his friend and colleague, Rachel Wotton.

The pair are in New Zealand to promote their documentary Scarlet Road and to share their own experience, in the hope that New Zealanders will start talking more openly about this work, and in turn help to destigmatise two sectors of society they say are discriminated against.

Touching Base trains sex workers and those who work in the disability sector and acts as a referral agency, matching people with disabilities with prostitutes.

The charitable organisation started in 2000 after a series of conversations between interested parties.

Mark Manitta, who has cerebral palsy and features in the film, was at the initial meeting.

"I still remember exactly what he said," Mr Isbister said. "Mark said: ‘All I want is to be touched all over my body once a month' . . . I still get choked up when I remember what he said because it seemed to be such a modest request."

A similar structure to Touching Base was discussed by New Zealand sex workers and the disability sector in the mid-1990s but it never gained momentum, New Zealand Prostitutes Collective national co-ordinator Catherine Healy said.

The collective often fielded requests from people with disabilities and their carers wanting to put them in touch with someone who could fulfil their own or their clients' sexual needs.

Wellington brothel owner Mary Brennan said she sometimes took calls from parents hoping she could put them in contact with a sex worker sensitive to their child's needs.

"People with gloves on, that's the most intimacy most disabled people have," she said.

Touch and sex could have great benefits for their physical and mental health, helping them feel the same as anyone else, she said.

Ms Wotton said Touching Base helped to alleviate fears and dispel myths and preconceived ideas.

"Decriminalisation allows us to openly discuss the services . . . and it gives clients permission to approach sex workers openly and honestly."

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