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Disabled women who pay for sex

by Hannah Barnes

25th February 2009

"I think generally society finds it shocking when disabled people want to have sex," Catarina* told me.

Her disability meant that sex was painful and uncomfortable. Ex-boyfriends had made her feel guilty for not being able to have an orgasm, and left her confidence at rock bottom.
A couple's hands clasped together
That's when she decided to see Andrew - a male escort.

"He was just very kind and took the time to listen to me and did whatever I wanted to do, not what he thought was right. If I came one day and said 'I don't really feel like having sex today,' we could just talk."

It wasn't a decision she took lightly, but Catarina is by no means alone in being both female and paying for sex. I've spent the last month delving into this issue for the Jonathan Maitland programme on Radio 5 live. 'What women would do that?' I asked myself. The answer - all sorts! They're all ages and races; come from all walks of life and are hiring an escort for a number of reasons - perhaps because they have busy business careers that leave little time to meet men; some want to act out a fantasy without risking ridicule by their partner; and some, like Catarina, want to gain sexual confidence.

Nearly half the escorts I've spoken to, see disabled clients. Catarina's escort has now written a book about his experiences, 'Whatever She Wants', using the pen name Andrew Rosetta. The real 'Andrew' told me that seeing people with disabilities was one of the most rewarding parts of the job:

"Personally I think it's really very fulfilling. You're providing a really wonderful service for somebody. You need to be much more sensitive. To get from a chair to a bed, for example, is not going to be very easy."

Catherine, another sex worker, says it's a "privilege to be able to give people that kind of experience. Often the only touch these people experience is medicalised - or touch that's related to practical care. The only touch they receive purely for pleasure is when they are paying for it and that seems very tragic to me.
Hannah interviews Catherine
"I would really like to see a world that recognised that there is a deep unmet need for that aspect of disabled people's lives to be addressed and taken care of."

Other sex workers and clients agree and would like to see money and arrangements to see a sex worker included in care packages, if that's what someone wants. It can be very expensive, with the top male escorts in London regularly charging over £100 an hour.

But, a bigger barrier could be the proposed new laws currently making their way through Parliament. The Policing and Crime Bill - if it goes through - would make it an offence to pay for sexual services from someone who is 'controlled for gain' by another person. What's more, it's something called a strict liability offence - so ignorance of a prostitute's circumstances would be no defence. The client would be fined £1,000 and receive a criminal record...
The Government wants to stop some men paying for sex with trafficked women, or those who are controlled by pimps or drug dealers - all categories that sex workers say make up a very small number of those working in the industry. But some, like Catherine, fear that clients could be criminalised for simply booking an escort through an agency - where the owner would take a cut of any earnings. The new law, she argues, could see that escort as being "controlled for gain."

"The controlling for gain law makes no reference to abuse, coercion, deception or violence. It explicitly includes people who are acting under free will. It's very wide. It does nothing to target abuse within the sex industry - it does nothing to target exploitation. But it will drive out good practice."

* (Names of some of those interviewed have been changed to protect their identity)

• Hear more about this story on the Jonathan Maitland show on BBC Radio 5 Live on Sunday 1 March at 8pm, or download the free podcast (available after transmission).

• Hannah Barnes is a radio journalist with BBC Current Affairs.

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