In the News

Below are items in the media regarding the work of Touching Base or similar issues related to sex work and/or,  disability and/or sexuality.

May 2020

NDIS funds may be used to pay for sex workers, court rules

In an article by Luke Henriques-Gomes in The Guardian it had been reported “The Federal court finds against the national disability insurance agency, which had denied funding to a woman living with multiple sclerosis.

People with disabilities can use national disability insurance scheme funds to access specialised sex worker services, the federal court has ruled.

In a rebuke to the national disability insurance agency, on Tuesday the court ruled unanimously in a favour of a woman who lives with multiple sclerosis and sought to include the services in her NDIS plan.

Despite the agency’s position that it “does not fund participation in sexual activity”, the federal court said the NDIS Act “does not expressly exclude such activities from being funded supports”.

Read more on The Guardian website

July 2019

Woman with disability wins NDIS funding for ‘sex therapy’ in precedent-setting case

An important decision has been made this week that is a step forward in recognising that people with disability have the right to have sex. In a decision published by the AAT, an NDIS decision to refuse funds for access to sex services has been overturned. 

The Administrative Appeals Tribunal has said that a woman with disability can use her NDIS funding to pay for sex therapy services. We congratulate this brave woman with disability who is determined to have the same rights as non-disabled people to an adult sex life. Comments by Touching Base Patron Eva Cox are featured in this article:…/ndis-to-pay-for-sex-thera…/11298838

In this next article on the same case we think the Federal Minister Stuart Roberts is the one out of touch with community expectations of what are ‘reasonable and necessary’ supports, since he has announced the NDIS will appeal decision to fund sex therapy.

November 2015

Sex worker community slams Brothel Inquiry findings

Sex workers are critical of the outcome of the parliamentary inquiry into NSW brothels which has found in favour of a licensing scheme for sex work. The Scarlet Alliance has been skeptical since the start of the inquiry saying it is a “politically motivated attack on sex workers” by conservative councils.

October 2015

Flicking the switch: Marrickville turns off the red lights

Marrickville Council has made a decision that sex workers can no longer operate from their own homes. While no formal complaints have been received the safety of workers and clients has been cited. Touching Base’s Saul Isbister says sex workers are “being discriminated against for no valid reason”.

September 2015

Why sex worker laws do not need changing

Members of Touching Base speak at the Select Committee hearing into the Regulation of Brothels. Decriminalisation came about in 1995 as a response to the Wood Royal Commission into police corruption. Currently there are proposals that a model of licensing, as in Victoria, be instituted in NSW.

AFP reveals (sic) sex trafficking based in Sydney brothels

The Australian Federal Police has stated that sex trafficking is alive and well in Sydney brothels. It is said that people are duped into coming to Sydney to work, but then find themselves living in brothels and unable to leave. Touching Base refutes this, saying the story is “inflated through the media”. Please ensure you scroll down the page and read the fascinating comment that makes it clear the Australian Federal Police’s testimony was twisted to sensationalise and exaggerate the true picture.

Sex And Ageing Needs To Be On The National Agenda, Experts Say

While sexual function can change over time it is important that sex and ageing are being spoken about openly, especially if people also develop dementia. This was part of the agenda of a recent conference on breaking down taboos about sex at which Touching Base’s Saul Isbister spoke.

The secret sex lives of seniors: conference reveals diversity and

Author of The Ultimate Gide to Sex After 50, Joan Price, speaks about her epiphany about sex in our later years. Her response to an article in the San Francisco Chronicle, which asked – “Now that boomers have decided there is sex after 60, could they please stop talking about it?”, was “no, she won’t”.

Regulating the sex work industry would be ‘terrifying’, says lawyer

The idea of sex workers needing to put their names on a permanent “sex worker register” will interfere with their privacy, says lawyer Kathryn Adams, who also states that a licensing system would “create a complex and ineffective bureaucracy” but would also put at risk the health of both the public, and sex workers.

If it works, then why change brothel controls?

A number of organizations, including Touching Base, Family Planning and Scarlet Alliance, have gone on record to the inquiry saying there would be negative outcomes from any changes to the existing laws surrounding brothels and sex work. Amnesty International considers these laws would lead to breaches in human rights, in addition, it is felt criminalization would lead to increases in HIV rates.

August 2015

Dateable Self-Esteem: Danielle Sheypuk, Ms. Wheelchair NY

Dr Danielle Sheypuk discussed sexuality for people who have congenital disabilities, and those with acquired disabilities, stating that people with acquired disabilities are “more in touch with themselves as a sexual person” and are more encouraged to continue exercising their sexuality. She speaks about “self-esteem”, and “dateable self-esteem” as being different, but that expression sexuality should be available to all, regardless of if a person is disabled or not. Dr Sheypuk notes Touching Base arranges sex workers for men and women with disability.

July 2015

SA lags when it comes to sexual needs of disabled

In SA – South Africa, not South Australia – Touching Base gains a mention on the issue of the rights of people with disability to full sexual expression. This topic is being raised in relation to the public being made aware a 60 year old father admitted to masturbating his 29 year old son who has a disability.

June 2015

Disabled people pay for sex too — so what happens when clients

Abolishing the sex industry and further criminalising clients has long been on the agenda of abolitionists who want to promote the failed and abusive policy approach known as the ‘Swedish Model’. This article in The Conversation UK explores and denounces their approach and raises Touching Base as an initiative that allow clients with disability “to explore their sexuality in a safe and mutually respectful way…”

May 2015

In the Cosmopolitan Australia magazine for May 2015, associate editor Lauren Smelcher interviewed Touching Base Committee member Fleur de Lys.  In this thought-provoking article Fleur dispels a few myths by offering an insight into her experiences with the diverse sexuality of people with disability.

October 2014

Recently a student at the University of Technology Sydney (UTS), Lauren Fitzpatrick, focused on our work in her short documentary titled ‘Not Without Needs’. Lauren was awarded a commendation in the Creative Media Social Justice Awards at the UTS Human Rights Awards ceremonies.

Our hearty congratulations to Lauren for this worthy recognition of her sensitive exploration into accessing funds for visits to sex workers. Follow this link to play the documentary:

July 2014

Check out this beautifully assembled multimedia essay just launched by SBS! ‘I have cerebral palsy and I enjoy having sex’ The creators have mixed photos with video footage, overlaid at times with fab music and interviews with Colin Wright and Rachel Wotton (a founding member of Touching Base Inc).

May 2014

Michael Kirby and Rachel Wotton have been interviewed by Gia Pace from NBC News in New York. They talk about supporting Touching Base and the nicest thing that has ever happened to them.

Also in the news this month, Scarlet Harem, the Gold Coast’s first legal brothel, received an award  from the Sunshine Coast Access Advisory Network for going above and beyond in providing accessibility and customer service. A big congratulations from Touching Base for their fantastic ongoing support for clients with disability.

March 2014

In an interview titled Kirby throws his support behind sexual rights of people with disabilities Tim Roxborough from The Wire program on Radio 2ser talked with The Hon. Micheal Kirby AC CMG about becoming a Patron of Touching Base.

Tim Roxborough from Radio 2ser also created another program titled Links between sex workers, people with disability get a boost in which several people with a disability have told The Wire how sex workers have played an important part in allowing them to lead a full sexual life. Touching Base hopes that our new patrons will spread this message to a whole new audience. Our own Rachel Wotton and Saul Isbister are also featured in this radio podcast.

September 2013

In Senior Moments , Peter Munro presents a very respectful, balanced article in the Good Weekend magazine (Sydney Morning Herald), with a small reference to Touching Base.

The Reporter has published an interesting article where a judge has authorised an insurance company fund sex workers for a man injured in a car accident.

June 2013 Local

Even though it’s only early in the month we have already been a part of four items of media covering our work in the community.

Mama Mia has published an interview with Rachel Wotton titled We Need to Talk About Sex Work … and Disability, where Rachel talks about various aspects of working with clients with disability. Whilst the article is very positive in the way it presents our work some of the comments posted by readers makes it clear that there is a still lot more work for us to do.

In “Not without needs”, a 15-minute video on YouTube, Lauren Fitzpatrick explores the topic of the National Disability Insurance Scheme – ‘Disability Care’ covering the costs of people with disability accessing sex workers. She interviews the Heckendorfs, a couple from the ACT with cerebral palsy, who provided a submission to the Federal Inquiry when the Bill went to Parliament. Our Vice President Denise Beckwith is also interviewed, along with other people with contrasting views, such as the Honourable Rev Fred Nile.   

June 2013 International

The prestigious online journal The Atlantic has published a in-depth feature article “Sex After Dementia” by Marina Kamenev. As a part of exploring a topic she has become aware of through her own experiences of aging parents Marina interviewed “Emma” a sex worker from Sydney who is experienced in working with clients with dementia. There are also a couple of salient quotes from our President Saul Isbister.

May 2013 Local

We have received awesome feedback and lots of incoming emails since Touching Base was mentioned twice on the same night on Australia mainstream TV, during Seniors Week in May. First in an ABC 730 Report and then about half an hour later in a SBS Insight program titled ‘Good Old Sex”.

May 2013 International

Two new groups similar to Touching Base have also popped up recently around the world. In Vancouver, Canada a group called EASE (Equitable and Accessible Sexual Expression) launched their website at a Q&A after a screening of Scarlet Road. Here is a link to a CBC Radio broadcast interviewing members of EASE.

A new group called Paths Together has also formed in New Zealand. An interview with Rachel Wotton was broadcast on morning television in NZ during her visit there for other screenings of Scarlet Road at a film festival in Auckland.


Sex for the Disabled – Taranaki Daily NZ – 9 November 2012
Australian sex worker Rachel Wotton has established a charitable organisation that matches sex workers with people with disabilities. New Zealand needs a service to help people with  disabilities get sex, not just for pleasure but also for their health,  those working in the disability and sex sector say. Male sex worker and activist Saul Isbister left New Zealand in the mid 1990s and headed to New South Wales where he helped establish Touching Base with his friend and colleague Rachel Wotton.

The Sexually Able Disabled – SMH – 9 November 2012
Written by Matty Silver, the Vice-President of Australian Society of Sex Educators, Researchers & Therapists NSW (ASSERT – NSW).

Scarlet Road – BBC Radio 4 – 12 June 2012
Rachel Wotton is an Australian sex worker, whose clients include people with disability. She is the subject of a documentary ‘Scarlet Road’ which is being screened at the Sheffield Documentary Festival this week.

Sex Workers on The Project – Channel 10 – 7 June 2012 Rachel Wotton and Christian Vega talking about sex work on national prime time TV.  Special appearance by Janelle Fawkes, CEO of the Scarlet Alliance, the National Association of Australian Sex Workers

Modern dilemmas – disability and sex – Life Matters ABC Radi0 – 4 June 2012 A Life Matters listener has emailed this dilemma: My 24 year old son has Down syndrome and the issue is one I haven’t heard anyone talk about. It is regarding adults with moderate intellectual disabilities and sexuality. Most live without the pleasures of sex that the rest of us take for granted. It is not lack of desire, but an inability to adequately communicate their needs and a lack of access to partners. How do parents and carers know what the person with an intellectual disability wants and even if they do know, what do they do about it? How do they facilitate personal interactions between their young adult and another person?

Sex worker speaks on taboo subject

SEX worker, activist, loving girlfriend and school dux; a unique documentary about the life of Newtown sex worker Rachel Wotton is sure to debunk a few stigmas.

Due to be screened on SBS later this year, the film documents the work of Touching Base, an organisation based in Sydney’s inner west which connects sex workers with people with a disability.

Click here to read more – at The Daily Telegraph, 29 Sep 2011

Sex and the disability – touching tale hits festival’s silver screen

Scarlett Road... Rachel Wotton is a sex worker who specialises in clients with disabilities such as John, who has multiple sclerosis.
Scarlett Road… Rachel Wotton is a sex worker who specialises in clients with disabilities such as John, who has multiple sclerosis.

IT IS not often that an elderly couple would make up their son’s bed with satin sheets and spread rose petals in readiness for a visit by a sex worker.

But this is no ordinary birthday celebration for Mark, who has cerebral palsy and yearns for an intimate relationship. Mark is confined to a wheelchair and speaks via an electronic communication board but his eyes light up at the prospect of an overnight liaison with Rachel Wotton, a Sydney sex worker of 17 years.

The liberating, unexpectedly romantic encounter features in independent director Catherine Scott’s latest documentary Scarlet Road, which is among the films vying for the $10,000 Foxtel Australian Documentary Prize at this year’s Sydney Film Festival.

The full program will be announced today by the festival director, Clare Stewart, and will include many Australian premieres, including films fresh from the Cannes film festival, which begins today.

Scarlet Road centres on Ms Wotton’s tireless campaigning for the rights of sex workers and for people with disabilities who are typically perceived as asexual and not in the dating game.

”Representation of sex workers and people with disabilities is a minefield but I wanted to tackle stereotypes head on,” says Scott, who befriended Ms Wotton a decade ago and gained sufficient trust to take her hand-held camera behind closed doors.

”The documentary is positive and pro-active about two marginalised groups. Sex workers are everywhere and they come in all shapes and sizes. They are not these isolated, lonely or damaged figures but people who go to the supermarket and lead ordinary lives. The joy of the documentary is that we get to talk about giving pleasure and shine a light on an issue that people haven’t thought about.”

With a background in psychology and a master’s degree in sexual health, Ms Wotton specialises in working with clients with cerebral palsy, multiple sclerosis and other degenerative conditions. One of her clients, a broadcaster named John, was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis 26 years ago. A chin-controlled wheelchair affords him mobility but he insists his sessions with Ms Wotton have enabled him to regain some body movement.

Ms Wotton hopes that Scarlet Road will shatter myths and prejudices. ”I’ve put in the hard yards of activism and lobbying to fight for the human and legal rights of sex workers. After all the voluntary work with Touching Base [a charity] it would be great to get government funding to further bridge the gap between people with disability, their support organisations and the sex industry.”

(c) by Bryce Hallett Sydney Morning Herald

See >> Scarlet Road website

Sexual Liberation

For people with a disability, a physical relationship can be almost impossible to achieve. But disability service providers are recognising everyone’s basic human right to be a sexual being.

Via the following links you can access the full article by Sue Hoban in PDF format with photographs or a text only HTML version for text readers.

Taken from: Manly Daily, 12 August 2006 – republished with kind permission

Carer with the healing touch – of sex

Extract: “As they age, many people lose interest in sex, but not everyone. I have a friend who works as a lifestyle coordinator in nursing homes. She’s as open-minded as she is kind and passionate about helping those she cares for.”

Every behaviour merely illustrates an unmet need,” she told me. “An elderly person exhibiting sexual behaviour is simply crying out for touch, or maybe just needs to be listened to. When staff complain that a resident is touching them inappropriately, I investigate and usually find they are desperately lonely for intimacy.”

Please follow this link to review the full article (PDF)

Taken from: The Age, Sharon Gray – 15 November 2005

Danes provide prostitutes (sic) for disabled

The Danish government is under attack for paying for its disabled citizens to have sex with prostitutes.
The official ‘Sex, irrespective of disability’ campaign pays sex workers to provide sex once a month for disabled people.

The legal guidelines advise:

“It could be of great importance that the carer speaks to the prostitute together with the person in their care, to help them express their wishes.”

But opposition parties have attacked the regulations, claiming it is an immoral way of spending tax-payers’ money.

Social-Democrat spokesperson Kristen Brosboel said: “We spend a large proportion of our taxes rescuing women from prostitution. But at the same time we officially encourage carers to help contact with prostitutes.” But Stig Langvad of the country’s Disabled Association said the politicians critical of the plan are showing “double standards”. He said: “The disabled must have the same possibilities as other people. Politicians can debate whether prostitution should be allowed in general, instead of preventing only the disabled from having access to it.”

Taken from: The Pakistan Daily Times, 16 September 2005

Sex workers in training

In a world first, a number of sex workers in NSW have completed an innovative training program that focuses on working with people with disabilities.

NSW Democrats member of the Legislative Council, Dr Arthur Chesterfield-Evans, presented awards last Friday at Family Planning Association (FPA) at Ashfield.

“This is a sensitive and controversial issue,” he said. “But we must be mature and recognise that courses like this will set a framework for ethical behaviour. It’s an important milestone in rights for the disabled.”

Professional Disability Awareness Training was aimed at providing professional development skills to sex workers, and topics included communication and medical aspects of disability. The training course was designed to assist sex workers in their dealings with disabled clients and give an affirmation to the work the sex workers admit had been part of their duties for a considerable time.

“Let’s face it, we’ve worked with people with disabilities for years and years,” says Donna (a Darlinghurst-based transgender sex worker). “But this course helps us help people in the right way. It awards the recognised skills we need to really help them.”

The training program was the result of a partnership between FPA Health and representatives from People With Disabilities, the Spastic Centre, Access Plus, the Spinal Unit at Royal North Shore Hospital, the Sex Workers Outreach Project and individual sex workers and people with disabilities.

By Sarah Bacon, Sydney Star Observer #611 May 2002

Touching Base endorses The Uluru Statement from the Heart and acknowledges First Nations as the traditional custodians of country throughout Australia, their diversity, histories and knowledge, and their continuing connections to land and community. As Australians all, we respect our nation’s First Peoples, their cultures, and Elders of past, present and future generations.