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‘Sexual assistance’: When Welfare State Becomes Pimp State

 

-I can’t believe it, surely, there must be something which would help you.

-Ah look, that would do it.

[Women walk on the street, the camera zooms on their bottoms.]

-I guess we’re all sick when it comes to that, aren’t we? I might be even sicker than you.

Extract from the film Untouchable (2011) by Olivier Nakache and Éric Toledano

 

 

Scene from the film Untouchable (2011)

(Screenshot:https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=p9i_KZ5K9Nw )

 

The film Untouchable is basedon the true story of Phillippe Pozzo di Borgo (played by François Cluzet), anuber-wealthy tetraplegic man, and his broke assistant Abdel Yasmin Sellou, played by Omar Sy. A real Frenchy feel-good movie, the film was heralded as a manifesto for anti-racism and brotherly solidarity, a touching example of men who bond despite their worlds being far apart. That solidarity is truly brotherly since it does not involve women. In one scene, Omar Sy’s character offers a ‘small gift’ to his dear friend: an ear massage for Philippe by two Asian women in prostitution - and probably a ‘happy ending’ for Omar himself[i].

 

Elsewhere, parents put on their brightest smiles: ‘I taught Hugo how to masturbate when he was 12’[ii]. How lovely. Having a disability is enoughto make the words ‘incest’ and ‘sexual abuse (of minors)’disappear. Were you already discriminated against because of the lack of state support? Wonderful, now you’ll also lose protection of your sexual integrity, just because of your disability.

 

The umpteenth debate on the notion of ‘sexual assistance’ is another occasion to recall that this practice is discriminatory both for people living with disabilities and ‘sexual assistants’. The notion reinforces the perception of people with disabilities as assisted persons, namely by reducing their autonomy even in the sexual sphere. It also instrumentalises these people in order to normalise prostitution. Overall, it conveys a negative vision of sexuality as something to be subjected to, to give away, to negotiate with - but never something to be desired. READ >>>

 

 

The assisted untouchables

 

‘So my daughter cannot hear or speak, and this wonderful young man kindly agreed to assist her sexually…’. Just by getting rid of the sugar-coatedimages we can realise how disturbing ‘sexual assistance’ is. The widely varied nature of disability propels it into a conversation where it is often overlooked. How many men would be willing to be paid to gain sexual access to women with disabilities? What would their intentions be? What about the consequences for the women involved? To break existing taboos on the sexuality of people with disabilities, we must start by condemning the sexual violence of which women, especially those with mental disabilities, are the first victims[iii]. A healthy sexuality starts with the protection of its integrity, not its commercialisation.

 

What’s more, among the numerous images used to illustrate the debate, it seems that ‘sexual assistance’ only reinforces existing stereotypes: a paralysed man and a woman corresponding to the contemporary beauty standards[iv]. The French association promoting ‘sexual assistance’ is called APPAS, which is a play on the French word meaning bait. It is defined in French as the ‘external attributes of a woman which arouse desire’, in particular the ‘female throat’[v]. Beauty thus stands naked and voluptuous: we can appreciate the double suffering ofwomen with physical disabilities. It is also implied that beauty must equate with ‘ability’. The disabled as the eternallyassisted remain undesirable, untouchable.

 

‘Death, sex. Sex, death. Perhaps a little more sex?’, thus the French lawyer and activist Elisa Rojas mocks the political discourse on disability in this country[vi]. Such narratives arereal smokescreens, hiding the daunting lack of infrastructures that should ensure the mobility and autonomy of people with disabilities: cities and meeting places still remain widely inaccessible. Disability also continuesto be a hurdle to access education and employment. It is high time we gave the material means for people with disabilities to go out and socialise freely instead of playing with their feelings by offering them relationships that are based on money. Behind the gloomy charitableness lies a real sexual imposition, as highlighted by the statement of the latepresident of the organisationfighting discrimination against women with disabilities, Femmes pour le dire, Femmes pour agir, Maudy Piot[vii]: you can’t leave home, but you’ll be assigned a total stranger on Mondays from 3 to 4 just like a compulsory swimming session.

 

 

The Italian counterpart of APPAS is Love Giver. If the French organisation promotes female beauty, the Italian one promotes the commercialisation of love. On a t-shirt sold on the Love Giver website, we can see a drawing illustrating thefounder of the association sitting fully dressedin a wheelchair with a woman withno  visible physical disability standing naked next to him.
(Image retrieved from the Lover Giver website: https://worthwearing.org/store/comitato-lovegiver/what-s-the-problem?utm_source=what-s-the-problem&utm_medium=embed&utm_campaign=embed

 

 

The APPAS introduction video begins with the picture of the back of a woman standing naked. Later, we see the founder Marcel Nuss, staring at a female nude incorporating the most traditional canons of beauty. On another image appears the silhouette of a naked woman without any visible disability. The imagery adopted by the organisation reinforces the image of the man having access to any woman he desires (which is possible only if she is ‘able’), thanks to his money.
(Screenshots from the video https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hXMFR6GzuH8)

 

Contractual sex

 

One also needs to ask who is assisting whom? Special training for healthcare workers who are mostly women[viii]? Women at the sexual service of men? And why limit this to disability? Male punters talk about sexual urges: why not refund their prostitution fees too? Better even than the welfare state, here we have the pimp state; France at forefront of the fight for the rights of Man, libido leading the people.

 

As Lise Bouvet and Yael Mellul remind us[ix]: as soon as prostitution,a paid sexual act, is recognised as work, protections against sexual violence become irrelevant: a patient with a disability who sexually harasses his healthcare worker would simply become a demanding patient[x].

 

‘What if those people were not paid,but did it on a voluntary basis?’ some people counter. Sure, everyone knows that being exploited for free is better than being exploited for money[xi]. But what is charitable sex? Sex to which we submit just to be nice? If we have a friend who hasn’t had sex for a while, what do we do? Do we help him out of charity? What if we don’t want to?

 

Overall, it is the view of sexuality which is conveyed by this discourse that is troubling. We are told about the right to sexuality, while denying others the right to be protected against violations of their sexuality. We are told about sexual needs, but never of desires. The talk is of contracts, ofcash, but the underlying power structures of paid sexual acts are never spoken about.

 

 

Happy end for the sickest? A scene from the film Untouchable (2011)
(Screenshot of the video https://www.cultura.com/intouchables-3384442252317.html )

 

In the final analysis, ‘sexual assistance’ only reinforces existing disparities. People with disabilities are discriminated again, deprived of their sexual autonomy, and presented as financial burdens. More than that, they are instrumentalised to sell ‘therapeutic pimping’. Prostitution enters the domain of healthcare, turning the male demand for prostitution into a pathology:  rather than being agents responsible for their acts, male punters become individuals who are ill and who need to be taken care of by women.

 

We can also unpick the discouraging view of sexuality that emerges from this debate: a sexuality which arises out of pity, out of financial need, out of constraint. ‘Sexual assistance’-prostitution demonstrates an inability to projectourselves in a world where sexuality is freed from constraints. Paradoxically, by presenting them as the norm, it avoids discussion of those constraints. A truly innovative discourse on sexuality would take into account the willingness and the desires of those involved. The Irish survivor of prostitution Rachel Moran talks ofmutuality[xii]: the term originally meaning ‘exchange of equivalent acts or sentiments between two or more people’. It is clear that such an exchange is impossible when one party uses money to impose their desireson the other.

 



[i]Rigouste, Paul « Intouchables (2011) : L’intouchable domination masculine », Le cinéma est politique, 21 June 2012. https://www.lecinemaestpolitique.fr/intouchables-2011-lintouchable-domination-masculine-2/

[ii] APPAS, « Analyse des demandes d’accompagnement sexuel et/ou sensuel formulées auprès de l’APPAS », site de l’APPAS, p.8. http://www.appas-asso.fr/%C3%A9tude2016.pdf

[iii] Handicap International « Les femmes handicapées sont dix fois plus exposées aux violences », site Handicap International, 8 March 2018. https://handicap-international.fr/fr/actualites/les-femmes-handicapees-dix-fois-plus-exposees-aux-violences#_ftnref3

[iv] Chamorro, Elena et autres, « Nous ne sommes pas des indésirables », Collectif Lutte et Handicaps pour l'Egalité et l'Emancipation, 20 April 2016.  https://clhee.org/2016/04/20/nous-ne-sommes-pas-des-indesirables/

[v] Définition de « appas » sur le site du Centre National de Ressources Textuelles.

[vi] Rojas, Elisa « Comment faire diversion : la stratégie politique du cul », Aux marches du palais, 10 February 2020. https://auxmarchesdupalais.wordpress.com/2020/02/10/comment-faire-diversion-la-strategie-politique-du-cul/

[vii] Piot, Maudy « La ‘solution’ de l’aidant sexuel, c’est un moyen de se déculpabiliser – Interview de Maudy Piot », Fondation Scelles Info, March 2011.

[viii] Observatoire des Inégalités, « Une répartition déséquilibrée des professions entre les hommes et les femmes », Observatoire des Inégalités website, 11 December 2014. https://www.inegalites.fr/Une-repartition-desequilibree-des-professions-entre-les-hommes-et-les-femmes?id_theme=22

[ix] Bouvet, Lise et Mellul, Yael « @ONUFemmes La prostitution instaure une forme de légalisation du viol », Ressources Prostitution, 24 October 2016. https://ressourcesprostitution.wordpress.com/2016/10/24/onufemmes-la-prostitution-instaure-une-forme-de-legalisation-du-viol/

We can also cite the work of Catharine MacKinnon and KajsaEkis Ekman.

[xi] Ekman, KajsaEkis, «All surrogacy is exploitation – the world should follow Sweden’s ban», The Guardian, 25 February 2016. https://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2016/feb/25/surrogacy-sweden-ban

[xii]‘There is no such thing as 'buying sex.' Reciprocity and mutuality are core elements of sexual activity. You can no more buy sex than you can buy humour or affection. There are some things in the human experience that are beyond the laws of capitalism. Sex is one of them.’

tweet by Rachel Moran, 26 March 2019, https://twitter.com/RachelRMoran/status/1110638409058578432

 

The Scelles Foundation in the press

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