Julie Bindel

Does a man have a right to pay for sex?

Does a man have a right to pay for sex?
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A case heard in the Court of Appeal today will decide whether or not carers should be expected to indulge in a spot of light pimping should their disabled client decide he requires the ‘services’ of a prostituted person.

This April, Justice Hayden ruled that a care worker who assisted C, a learning-disabled man, to secure the ‘services’ of a prostitute had not committed a criminal offence under the Sexual Offences Act 2003.

The Secretary of State for Justice was granted permission to appeal, and there was also an intervention in the case from the Centre for Women’s Justice (CWJ) as well as Women at the Well and the NIA Project, both of which are NGOs that work directly with girls and women who are, or who have been, involved in prostitution.

C’s legal team relied on evidence from the ‘Outsiders Trust’, which describes itself as ‘a social charity for people with disabilities. Linked to Outsiders is the TLC Trust, which helps ‘sex workers’ make bookings with ‘disabled clients’. On its website, TLC offers advice for disabled men in how to deal with disquiet from carers:

‘Question: My care staff refuse to wash me after seeing a sex worker. Answer: Threaten to report them unless they wash you respectfully’. So, hardworking, underpaid carers could be fired if they do not wish to clean bodily fluids following sex.

Referring to the evidence from Outsiders, the barrister acting on behalf of the government pointed to its ‘risk assessment’ in ensuring that women are advertising their services freely and without coercion from a third party, and pointed out that it was not possible to ensure that third parties hadn’t been involved, or that the prostituted women had not experienced exploitation. Under UK law it is a criminal offence to pay for sex with a person who has been subject to ‘exploitative conduct’.

Punters routinely claim that if they do not have access to paid sex they will ‘have to go and rape a real woman’, as one man told me during an interview for my book on the harms of prostitution. Another punter told me: ‘Maybe if men could get it [prostitution] on the NHS if they are disabled, it would prevent them from raping.’ What an outrageous and dangerous myth this is.

CPS guidance states that ‘those who sell sex should not be treated as offenders but as people who may be or become victims of crime.’ The CPS focuses its attention on prosecuting those that pimp and otherwise exploit prostituted people.

It is known across all the criminal justice agencies that it saves the lives of women in prostitution when you develop routes out of the sex trade, rather than encourage or normalise the buying of vulnerable women's bodies. The context is frequently one of abuse of power, used by those that incite and control prostitution – the majority of whom are men – to control the sellers of sex, the majority of whom are women.

Are we supposed to make exceptions in law and in the workplace for disabled men? What about deeply unattractive, able-bodied men? Should we recognise how difficult it might be for them to get a real date and provide women for them, too? The suggestion that disabled people are considered so unattractive that they have to purchase sexual access to another human body is offensive on its own.

The idea that disabled people’s carers are responsible for ensuring their clients’ sexual satisfaction should never be enshrined in law. This is already the case in Denmark, where prostitution was legalised in 1999, and there is now an expectation that carers working with physically disabled couples should facilitate sex between them if asked. Is this what we want for our overworked, underpaid carers?

The rights of disabled men to buy sex clearly overrides the rights not just of prostituted women and carers, but also the majority of disabled people who find the assumption that they can’t get a real date offensive.

During the hearing in April, the court heard that C had, in the past, been reported as having articulated threats ‘which were of a sexual nature’. As a child, ‘C could be extremely challenging; his behaviour was sometimes aggressive and dangerous.’ Women in prostitution are routinely victimised by punters, but Justice Hayden nevertheless ruled that C should be enabled to pay for sex. The ruling on today’s case, expected in a few weeks, will either confirm that women’s rights will never equal those of men, or will send a clear message that prostitution is the last thing that any state should endorse.