The Malta Independent 4 August 2020, Tuesday

Activists agree with need for clinics to help people with disability with sex education

Helena Grech Sunday, 10 December 2017, 10:15 Last update: about 4 years ago

Dr Anna Borg and Ms Marie-Therese Gatt from the Association for Equality have clarified that they have nothing against the provision of information, assistance or guidance on sexual health issues to people with disability. The suggestion that sex workers in these clinics are to provide gratification services is where they draw the line.

Borg and Gatt had discussed the issue on the popular tv show Xarabank and had expressed concern that sex workers providing services of a sexual nature to people with disability is prostitution, and prostitution should never be justified. The term ‘sex worker’ is used to make prostitution more palatable, they stress.

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The activists were invited to speak on the show after the issue was raised by the Commissioner for People with Disability Oliver Scicluna. The idea was to have differing opinions on the panel for a more balanced discussion.

Dr Roderick Bugeja, a sexual and reproductive health advisor and lecturer in health sciences who specialises in sexuality and sexual health was also present at the interview and shared some of his studied insights through years of experience in the sector.

Gatt explained how the issue had been discussed on Xarabank in the first place. Scicluna, who is a happily married man, had been asked to broach the topic by local people with disability who felt there was a stigma and taboo on the issue.

Scicluna took up the proposition to have the issue discussed with the aim of providing a voice for those people with disability who wanted it to be discussed but did not feel comfortable enough to raise the issue themselves.

Our sister newspaper, The Malta Independent, had also carried an interview with the mother of a man with Down’s Syndrome, who expressed frustration at Borg’s remarks on the show, saying that it was insensitive to decry the workers as prostitutes and deny some people their natural desire for sexual gratification.

After speaking to Borg, Gatt and Bugeja at length, it became apparent that they are not against people with disability being helped to communicate their sexual needs and to learn and explore their sexuality through the help of trained therapists.

They are also not against people with disability being given access to – and taught about – sophisticated sex toys that could help them with gratification, that could even be provided for them. However, the moment a ‘sex worker’ or ‘sex therapist’ is required to perform services for the sake of gratification, this crosses a line because this becomes prostitution, they stress. The activists also added that the person with disability in this case becomes a perpetrator, inflicting more abuse on this vulnerable group in society and is no different from any other customer.

They are also cautious of sex services for people with disability, even if extremely high standards of monitoring and enforcement to ensure that no abuse takes place are assured. Gatt stressed that there would be so many facets of this service provision that would have to be monitored to ensure that nobody is being taken advantage of, especially if the person with disability is a woman, that such enforcement is impossible especially as it would require a carer to accompany the people during the sex act. 

The group is against anybody being used as a vehicle for providing gratification services, and that this would be a back door to allowing the pimping and solicitation of prostitutes in all circumstances. This is a big money-making business for the pimps.

There is concern that allowing what are essentially prostitutes for people with disability, might be called discrimination by other sections of society and this would pave the way for the pimping and solicitation to be made perfectly legal.

Those in favour of providing people with disability with sex workers say that calling them ‘prostitutes’ is not right because many must be trained to deal with the needs of different disability. The activists insist that a trained prostitute is still a prostitute.

Gatt said that there are sex therapists that can help with issues of sexuality, there are carers who can keep people company and help people with disability to meet other people. She goes onto say it is more important to form intimate relationships that last, than short-lived sexual gratification.

Borg was critical of Oliver’s message in his capacity as a commissioner, saying that advocating the use of sex workers is like saying that a person with a disability should not even try to engage in regular relationships but should automatically make use of a prostitute.

Borg believes that by discussing the issue so generally, all those with disability are being put in the same basket when the spectrum of different kinds of disability is huge.

Bugeja said a distinction must be made, and that it is not uncommon for persons with disability to form a meaningful relationship.

The three expressed concern that, by approaching the issue, a message is being given that a person with disability should not try to gain intimacy through more traditional channels, but should automatically seek out the services of a sex worker or prostitute.

While many different disabilities exist, some pose a far greater obstacle to living a relatively normal life than others. This newsroom asked about those whose disability genuinely does not allow them to self-gratify or enter into a relationship, and whether the services of a sex worker should be provided for them.

Both Gatt and Borg acknowledged the difficulty of such a scenario, particularly as the needs of the individual with disability may not even be known, and questioned where the line gets drawn as to who will get the services and who will not, depending on the level of their disability. 

Bugeja also acknowledged that there is a section of people with disability which, because of the nature of their circumstances, are unable to build a typical relationship or self-gratify, but questioned if the ‘dignity’ of those so-called sex workers should be compromised to justify the provision of such services.

“Are we going to justify any means to reach an end? Are there any alternatives to how their lives could be satisfied without seeking out the services of prostitution? Are we going to further jeopardise the image of women in today’s society and further increase their abuse?”

Bugeja quickly added that, as male prostitutes would also be used in this respect, they would also suffer a loss of dignity, but because of the way women are valued and portrayed in today’s society, such a move could impact on women’s image more than in the case of men.

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