‘A Human Rights Violation’: Advocates Slam Move To Boot Sex Services From The NDIS

The ability to access sex work services under the National Disability Insurance Scheme (NDIS) is at risk, following NDIS Minister Bill Shorten‘s planned reforms to the scheme to cut back on costs. However, disability advocates have slammed this decision, stating that it denies people with a disability the right to intimacy, pleasure and sexuality.

On Sunday, Shorten said that he had plans to ban sex work under the scheme.

“We will rule it out, yeah, we will rule it out. It’s just not a sustainable proposition, it doesn’t pass the test, does it,” Shorten told Sky News, per ABC.

“The reality is I’ve got one or two examples I’m aware of that it’s ever happened, ever. So it’s not what’s happening in most of the scheme.”

In 2020, specialised sex services were added to the scheme following a federal court ruling, which gave the National Disability Insurance Agency power to approve sex services it deemed “reasonable and necessary”.

The ruling came after a woman with multiple sclerosis wanted NDIS-funded sex services included in her plan, with the court declaring that the NDIS Act “does not expressly exclude such activities from being funded supports”.

(Image: Getty)

Why is the government cutting the funding?

Earlier this year, the federal budget predicted that the costs of the NDIS would rise from $44.3 billion to more than $90 billion by 2030. So now, the government is looking for ways to cut costs. However, disability advocates say that due to the small number of cases of people who use the services, the NDIS-funded sex work doesn’t make a dent in the rising costs.

What do disability advocates have to say?

Naturally, they’re not pleased.

Touching Base — an organisation connecting disabled people to sex workers since 2000 — slammed the proposed changes, calling it a “human rights violation”.

“Touching Base unequivocally reject Minister Bill Shorten’s public declaration to exclude access to sex work services under the NDIS,” it reads.

“We are currently engaging with allied peer and peak disability organisations, policymakers 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 to intimacy and pleasure. To deny disabled people who may need support to express this right is a human rights violation.”

And it’s not as simple as sex toy use either. Not all commonly found sex toys are accessible for people with disability. (Image: Getty)

Sexologist Zoe Snell believes the proposed changes are a significant disadvantage to people with a disability for a myriad of reasons.

“For some — not all — access to sex workers can be the easiest way for people with a disability to explore their sexuality, experience sexual wellbeing and experience pleasure. All of those things that come with sexual wellbeing can now be lost if they don’t have access to sex workers,” she tells PEDESTRIAN.TV.

“I always say sexual wellbeing isn’t a privilege. According to the World Health Organisation, every person has the right to sexual health. A part of that is the experience of sexuality free from coercion, the ability to have a sexual experience and experience sexual pleasure.”

Along with being a way to fulfil a human right to sexual well-being, Zoe believes that the changes will negatively perpetuate the stigma surrounding sexuality and disability.

“For a lot of people with disability, it can be stigmatised to discuss their sexuality. The idea that people with a disability aren’t sexual beings is a really damaging trope and it’s simply not true,” she explains.

The bigger picture

While it’s all well and good for Shorten to discuss NDIS-funded sex work cuts over Tim Tams with Liberal MPs, the discussion leaves people with a disability without a chance to have autonomy over their sexual lives.

Katia Schwartz, a dancer, sex worker, advocate and person with a disability, slammed Shorten for not including the voices of people affected within the discussion.

“I reject these ignorant statements. White, straight, cis, able-bodied, middle-aged men need to stop taking up space in areas they truly do not belong. I am an expert in my own life and my own profession. And so is every other disabled person and sex worker,” she wrote.

“Accessing sex should not be a privilege reserved for able-bodied people. Intimacy is an essential human right. Any attempt to prevent people with disability from having equal experiences to those without disability is a violation of our human rights.”

It is also interesting to note that currently, the NDIS provides public funds for sex aid products like Viagra.

“It’s a bit of a double standard really,” said Greens senator and disability spokesman Jordon Steele-John, per the ABC.

“The federal government is totally happy to provide public funds for sex-based supports such as Viagra and other types of medications that are available on prescription — as they should be — and there is a growing acceptance about the need to have open and honest conversations about sex and sexuality throughout the community.

“And yet when it comes to disability and sexuality, it is framed often by people in positions of power it is framed as something that is salacious and taboo.”

What can I do?

The good news is, the changes haven’t gone into effect just yet. Charity organisation Touching Base encourages people to get the word out by sharing articles or social media posts about the impacts of the proposed changes.

You can also write or call your local MP or senator to show the importance of sex work inclusion in the NDIS.