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Artillery Row

Should prostitution be available on prescription?

The unlikely — and sinister — teaming of the sex trade and disability rights

In January 2022 Rhys Bowler argued that the government should pay for him to have sexual access to women’s bodies. He announced that “Sex workers should be on the NHS for disabled people like me”. Mr Bowler has conflated purchasing a woman to penetrate with sex and claims it is an aspect of disability rights. As always, disabled women are not considered. Rhys stated that “this was my way of feeling better, by having sex”. He admitted to having used sex workers before: “it was easy for me to do it, it was easy for me to gain access”. 

In that short statement, Rhys makes few sad observations of our society. He has outlined how easily available prostituted women are and that we live in a society in which it is common place for women’s bodies to be sold to men. Male feelings are paramount and women have been reduced to objectified service animals. Sex, the act, is considered by some to be no longer about passion, connection and mutual desire but bodies for males to penetrate. The importance of language is clear: sex worker sounds like a job, would Rhys be so comfortable saying he should have the right to buy poor, vulnerable, and often forced women for his sexual use?

In 2021 the NHS was funding sexual access to women’s bodies for a different disabled man, Thomas Williams from Lichfield, Staffordshire. Thomas is 30 years old and has autism and cerebral palsy. As part of his care package “he was given £23 a week for sex therapy with his 48-year-old sex surrogate [prostituted woman] Beverlee Lewis”. Disability charities such as Headway have been promoting the bodies of women be used as a therapeutic tool for men with brain injuries, recommending friends and care-workers facilitate visits to “sex services such as escorts, sex workers, or massage parlours that offer sex services”. It was being suggested that these men had no hope of forming relationships following their injuries. Similarly, Thomas argued that “There is a lot of stigma around being sexual and being disabled” and that he “didn’t really see the interaction between boyfriend and girlfriend as something I could have”. There is stigma that has to be challenged but prostituted women are not the answer. Purchasing women reinforces the message that disabled men cannot be sexy and are unlovable.

Yes, in Blackpool you could buy women every few yards

Introduced under the last Labour government, the State did indeed used to fund disabled men’s access to prostituted women on a “case-by-case” basis. In August 2010 it came to light that “an “angry, frustrated and anxious young man” of 21 with learning disabilities had been granted taxpayers money to fly to Amsterdam to purchase a prostitute. Paul Sims reported that “the trip emerged in data from Freedom of Information requests which revealed that many councils are using the money from the government’s Putting People First scheme to pay for prostitutes, visits to lap dancing clubs and exotic holidays”. Exploiting women and objectifying them, such as in lap dancing clubs, could supposedly be justified if “it would help the ‘mental and physical well-being’ of their client”.

Blackpool, once known as “the Vegas of the North” and a destination for sleazy holidays, had an interesting licensing dispute in 2013 between the Council and the male profiteers of the sex trade. Ashley Sayers, whose family operated Eden 1 lap dancing club, had his application for a sex encounter venue (SEV) at Kraze bar on Queen Street rejected by Blackpool Council and, in an unusual twist, his competitors appealed to the Council for him. The unique selling point of strippers at Kraze bar was that it was wheelchair accessible. Martin Coe, who runs Sinless Gentleman’s Club, wrote that he “was interested to hear [Sayers’s] idea for a lap dancing bar on Queen street with full disabled access and disabled toilet facilities. At Sinless our staff would be more than happy to send customers requiring disabled facilities round the corner to the Queen street venue, as it is just yards away from us”. 

Yes, in Blackpool you could buy women every few yards. Peter Herdman (the premises supervisor of Bar 19, Queen Street) argued that a sex encounter venue would lower the crime rate on Queen Street, an area notorious for drunken violence at night, against all the evidence. Indeed, “research undertaken in the London Borough of Camden found a fifty per cent increase in sexual assaults in the borough after the rapid expansion of lap dancing clubs”. Alan Ogden (who ran Edge Bar on Queen Street) claimed it would improve “diversity”. One presumes diversity of sexual exploiters of women and girls?

They were using disabled men as a cover to expand the sex trade in the town

Disabled men wrote to the Council too, explaining how much paying to access poor women improved their lives. Ken Roberts claimed a stripper from Eden 2 saved his life. That is not a typo. There are two branches of Eden in Blackpool — lap dancing is that commonplace. R. Cooper talked about how lonely he was now he no longer had access to women’s bodies for money, D Kilnour was similarly disappointed that he cannot purchase women, while A. Ainger stated he now misses being able to only talk to the girls once a month. I don’t believe him when he says is only talking to them. The owner of the Blencarn Hotel, who spelt the name of the bar applying wrong, asserted that he needed an accessible sex venue to recommend to his disabled guests as men frequently travelled to the area to purchase access to women. The Blencarn owner, was a frequent customer of Eden and “well looked after” by the staff. 

The 2013 Eden 1 House Rules for the women stripping underline the exploitation. The woman must pay a £100 club fee per shift, plus a per centage of their tips, while they may only charge £10 per lap dance unless it is a VIP dance which is £45 and the club receives £5. The woman must provide their own outfits, plus cover the cost of hair, make-up, eyelashes, tan, nails etc. as being unpresentable could mean being charged the club fee but not being allowed to work. 

Despite what they present to the Council these are not good men, champions of social justice or disability rights. They were using disabled men as a cover to expand the sex trade in the town. If anyone complained about sex encounter venues or exploitation they could trot out the rot that “what about isolated disabled men, do they not deserve happiness”. The sex trade was forced teaming disability rights. Luckily, the Council didn’t believe them then nor nearly a decade later when it announced that it would issue no new licenses and let the current lap dancing licences expire. 

Two 2021 Court rulings have established rights, duties and how we understand sex as an act and the status of women. C’s case, judged on 22nd October 2021, would have established and enshrined a male’s legal right to sexual intercourse with a female. It would have entrenched the sex trade because if there is a human right to sex under Article 8 of the Human Rights Act then there must be a corresponding duty on the State to provide sex. The case of JB, judged on the 24 November, asked whether an inability to recognise that a sexual partner must give consent — and can withdraw it — means that a person lacks capacity to engage in sexual relations

These rulings re-asserted established parameters regarding sexual contact between adults: that consent must be freely given and that female bodies do not exist to service male wants. Disabled men deserve equal rights. If disabled men have a right to women’s bodies for their sexual gratification, then why not other men?

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