‘It is time for the NDIS to catch up’: Disability advocates call to fund access to sex work
12 July 2019 at 4:24 pm
Advocacy groups are calling for the National Disability Insurance Scheme to offer funding for sex work services after a person with a disability won the right to have a sex therapist paid for by the scheme.
The Administrative Appeals Tribunal this week ruled in favour of a woman with multiple sclerosis who applied for sex therapy funding in her NDIS plan, but was refused by the National Disability Insurance Agency.
The Morrison government has already indicated the NDIA will appeal the ruling, which said the woman should receive $10,000 a year to fund her treatment.
AAT deputy president Brian Rayment rebuked the NDIA’s defence that sex therapy was not a “reasonable and necessary support” the NDIS was intended to cover.
“The only help she can usefully have to reach sexual release, to the extent to which she can, is by means of the qualified and trained sexual therapist whose services she seeks,” Rayment said.
“She does not have a need likely to be capable of being met by a partner and she has no partner. The financial sustainability of the scheme is not threatened by funding the support which she seeks.”
Disability groups welcomed the decision, but were disappointed Rayment did not use his ruling to recommend the NDIS fund sex workers.
He said a distinction should be made between a sex worker and the specially trained sex therapist the woman sought.
“This case does not, in my opinion, throw up for decision the question whether the services of a sex worker ought… to be funded for persons with a disability if their needs require it,” he said.
Matthew Bowden, co-CEO of People with Disability Australia, said he hoped this case would provide the NDIA with a framework to develop much needed policy in this area.
He said people should not be denied access to sex on the basis of their disability.
“The previous state-based disability support system had long supported people with disability to have funded access to sex work services – now it is time for the NDIS to catch up with this long-standing precedent,” Bowden said.
“We are pleased that the AAT has upheld the rights of people with disability to sexual expression, which would enable ‘reasonable and necessary’ support through NDIS funding to engage the services of a sex worker to achieve therapeutic outcomes.”
The Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities – which underpins the NDIS – states that governments have an obligation to ensure that people with disability can enjoy life to the same extent as their non-disabled peers.
Saul Isbister, president of sex worker advocacy group Touching Base, said every adult, regardless of disability, has a human right to seek consensual sexual expression.
He noted sex therapists do not provide sex work services, but sex workers often offer therapeutic outcomes for their clients through their services.
“Non-disabled people can masturbate, or find sexual partners, but for some people with disability, they don’t have the same opportunities without access to sex work services,” Isbister said.
“For too long the issue of disability and sexuality has been a taboo topic that was kept shrouded in a veil of secrecy or denial.”
But NDIS Minister Stuart Robert said the government remained of the view that the scheme does not cover sexual services, sexual therapy or sex workers in a participant’s plan.
He said the NDIA intended to appeal the decision.
“These services are not in line with community expectations of what are reasonable and necessary supports,” Robert said.