Scarlet News:

Scarlet Alliance & Touching Base statement re: exclusion of access to sex work services under the NDIS.

Jul 9, 2024 | Community Update, Media release, News

On Sunday 7th July 2024, NDIS Minister Bill Shorten announced his plan to prohibit the inclusion of sex work services through the National Disability Insurance Scheme.

Since 2020, access to specialised sex services have been confirmed as available through the NDIS following a Federal Court ruling. This ruling determined that the National Disability Insurance Agency should approve such services when they are considered reasonable and necessary in an NDIS participant’s personal circumstances.

Scarlet Alliance and Touching Base unequivocally reject Minister Bill Shorten’s public declaration to exclude access to sex work services under the NDIS. We are currently engaging with allied peer and peak disability organisations, policy makers and media and are lobbying to challenge Minister Shorten’s desire to deny an already neglected aspect of the lives of people with disability.

Disabled people often face significant stigma and discrimination when trying to form intimate relationships or engage in sexual self pleasure. Recognising that ‘sexual services’ are a legitimate need for some people with disability is an important step in creating equal access to the human right for intimacy and pleasure. To deny disabled people who may need support to express this right is a human rights violation.

Problematic statements from Minister Bill Shorten

“The reality is I’ve got one or two examples I’m aware of that it’s ever happened, ever […] It’s just not a sustainable proposition.”

His arguments are self defeating – on one hand, he suggests that sex work services have only been claimed by a couple of NDIS participants. Yet on the other hand, he argues that it threatens the sustainability of the scheme. There is no evidence to suggest that sex work services put a strain on the NDIS, with a full bench of the Federal Court unanimously dismissing this argument in 2020.

“We will rule it out… it doesn’t pass the test, does it?”

However, in 2020, the Federal Court determined that the NDIS should approve sex work services where appropriate, indicating that the services did, in fact, clearly pass the reasonable and necessary test in the eyes of Court.

“I will take a packet of Tim Tams, uh, coffee, and tea over to any Liberal office to go through the issues.”

This statement reveals a troubling perspective on what meaningful co-design should entail in the disability sector. It now seems to imply that the federal minister will have a casual meeting with the opposition, over snacks, to decide what is best for people with significant disabilities regarding their most private and personal needs. This approach has raised an enormous red flag in the disability community, as it sets a dangerous precedent of making snap decisions without any consultation on such a radical change.

The principle of co-design is being sacrificed in the interests of political expediency.

Sex and Disability

Sex and disability intersect in complex ways, often challenging discrimination and preconceptions. People with disability often experience infantilisation and stigma surrounding their capacity and needs. This can diminish autonomy and agency, particularly regarding sexual rights. 

Exploring and expressing one’s sexuality is a fundamental human experience, yet for many disabled people, this aspect of life is deeply stigmatised and overlooked. Seeking sexual services and including them in NDIS participants’ plans can be a significant step toward claiming autonomy and affirming their right to intimacy and pleasure.

Sex work and the NDIS

The purpose of the NDIS is to provide various supports to ensure people with disability have equal access to all aspects of their everyday life. The right to pursue sexual expression, intimacy and relationships are a part of everyday life.

While people without disability often have numerous opportunities to satisfy their sexual desires and needs, either through self-pleasuring or finding sexual partners, there are many people with disability who lack the same access to these opportunities. 

For some, engaging with a sex worker can support them in learning more about sexual enjoyment, understand their bodies and others, give and gain consent explicitly, or increase their confidence and dating skills. In some cases, access to sex workers may be the only way for them to achieve this equality.

Sex workers are professionals

Sex workers are professionals in sex and intimacy. People with disability seek out various professionals for their expertise in other areas of their life that require support. However, sex workers are often overlooked in our professionalism and face stigma in the value of the services we offer. Sex workers bring valuable skills in practical sexual education, such as consent and safer sex practices, which can importantly fill a gap for people with intellectual disability who have been denied the right to receive sexual education, which goes against the UNCRPD.

Take condoms, for example. While a medical clinician can demonstrate using a condom on a model, it doesn’t compare to the hands-on support a sex worker can provide, especially for individuals with complex receptive communication and learning needs.

Looking beyond essential support for NDIS participants who need assistance to self-pleasure or to sexually engage with their partner/s, sex workers more broadly can support people with disability through:

  • Breaking down stigma: Sex workers show that sex is nothing to be ashamed of, supporting people with disability in their sexual expression.
  • Enhancing self worth and esteem: Access to intimacy improves mood, self esteem and sense of self worth for people with disability. These were facts that were unchallenged by the NDIA at the AAT in the test case WRMF.
  • Rejecting infantilisation: Sex workers treat people with disability like adults and are the experts in consent. Many of sex workers have disabilities and also face similar stigma and discrimination.
  • Access to information: Sex workers provide in-context education tailored to individual needs and circumstances.
  • Eliminating physical barriers: We can visit the homes of disabled people, offering services there instead of requiring them to navigate potentially inaccessible meeting places.
  • Promoting privacy: Some people with disability rarely have private moments. A booking with a sex worker can provide independence from support workers, family members, or others.
  • Companionship: People with disability often experience isolation. Sex workers are experts in creating positive social experiences and offer much needed companionship.
  • Breaking down communication barriers: We are skilled in communication, adept at discussing boundaries, consent, and tailoring experiences to individual needs.
  • Sex education: As leading experts in sex education and consent, sex workers maintain lower STI/BBV rates than the general population and consistently educate clients about safer sex practices.
What’s next?

Scarlet Alliance and Touching Base unequivocally reject Minister Bill Shorten’s public declaration to exclude access to sex work services under the NDIS. We are currently engaging with allied peer and peak disability organisations, policy makers and media and are lobbying to challenge Minister Shorten’s desire to deny an already neglected aspect of the lives of people with disability.

What can you do?
  • Share, like and save this post.
  • Write or make a phonecall to your local MP or Senator to highlight the importance of the inclusion of sex work services under the NDIS.
  • Where practical, visit your local MP or Senator to discuss the negative impact of Minister Shorten’s statements.

In 1992, Anne Finger, an American disabled author and activist, wrote, “Sexuality is often the source of our deepest oppression; it is also often the source of our deepest pain”. It’s time Minister Shorten acknowledges this is still the case for many people.