Today’s Sex Worker Lives interview is with Saul, President of Touching Base. Touching Base Inc is a charitable organisation, based in Sydney NSW Australia, that has been active since October 2000. Touching Base was developed out of the need to assist people with disability and sex workers to connect with each other, focusing on access, discrimination, human rights and legal issues and the attitudinal barriers that these two marginalised communities can face.
I asked Saul a few questions about what he does at Touching Base and what Touching Base does in the community.
1. Tell us about Touching Base and the role it plays in the sex industry?
The work of Touching Base – bringing together sex workers and people with disability – emerged under the umbrella of a decriminalised sex industry in New South Wales. Since we began in 2000 we have observed a remarkable change in the way many people now look at sex workers, especially those connected with the vast disability sector. Our involvement in the documentary Scarlet Road, featuring our inaugural member Rachel Wotton, has given Touching Base an international profile that brings awareness of this area of sex work to audiences around the world.
2. As President, how did you come to be involved with Touching Base?
Touching Base started from a small group of interested sex workers, people with disability and some allies in sexual health. We called a meeting to build bridges between sex workers and people with disability and to identify what each group needed from each other. As a sex worker my primary interest was to get training on how to better meet the needs of my clients with disability. Over the last 15 years volunteering with Touching Base has been a wonderful learning journey in many other ways, and as a sex worker activist I draw strength from working closely with a wide variety of awesome people who fully support the rights and aspirations of sex workers’.
3. Why is it so necessary for a service such as yours to exist?
In the past the sexuality of people with disability was invisible – unless it was raised as a problem. So Touching Base stands up for the rights of adults with disability to express their sexuality, including being supported to access to the services of sex workers if that is what they want to do. Because negative community attitudes towards sex workers can be a barrier we also address stigma and discrimination directed towards sex workers. Practical ways we do this is by producing information resources, delivering training, providing policy advice and engaging in research.
The most important ongoing service we provide is meeting the ever increasing demand from clients and support staff for referrals to disability-friendly sex workers and accessible brothels across Australia.
4. What does a sex worker have to do to be placed on the Touching Base Referral List?
Firstly a sex worker needs to apply for membership using the form available on our website and follow the instructions for sending it to our Secretary. Sex workers can choose to join up using their working name. Once membership is approved the annual fee is only $20 for 1 year or $50 for 3 years. Then the worker can provide details about themselves and their services via an online portal. A sex worker who helps maintain the referral list database will then call to welcome them as a new member and activate their listing on the database. Find more info about membership and our Referral List on our website.
5. What is some advice you can give to a sex worker who would like to work with men and/or women with a disability in this way?
Firstly, have a good look over the information available on our website – especially in the Sex Worker and Client sections. To increase your confidence come along to one of our Professional Disability Awareness Training workshops (PDAT). These workshops also offer a unique opportunity to network with other sex workers, to share tips and upskill together in a class that is strictly restricted to sex workers.
6. As a member of the sex industry, and as President of Touching Base, how would you define sexuality?
To my mind sexuality is a combination of: gender identity, sexual orientation and the expression of personal preferences – in relation to intimacy, and/or sensuality, and/or sexual activities; with one’s self and/or with others – within private or public arenas.
7. What advice would you give to someone in the disabled community who is a little apprehensive about using Touching Base’s services?
Many clients feel nervous before seeing a sex worker for the first time, for a range of reasons. Sex workers are used to helping new clients to relax in their company – it’s all part of the service. Curiosity is a great antidote to anxiety. On the Touching Base website you can read short stories from other men and women with disability telling their experiences of seeing a sex worker, and check out the Frequently Asked Questions pages.
8. As President of Touching Base, what would you say to the overall community about overcoming discrimination and the attitudinal barriers that exist about sex and disability?
One of the easiest ways to influence prejudiced minds is by sharing genuine insights and personal stories. If you want to become a part of the positive changes we are making why not join up as a member of Touching Base. You can create change within your ‘circles of influence’ by getting hold of a copy of the documentary Scarlet Road to share with friends, work colleagues and family members – and you’re sure to have an interesting chat about it afterwards.
9. Finish this sentence….”In a perfect world…. the sexual and relationship needs of people with disability would be given equal focus to their other personal support needs – and all sectors of the sex industry would be fully decriminalised in all jurisdictions across the planet”
You can learn more about Touching Base at http://www.touchingbase.org/.
Thanks to Saul for taking the time out to talk with me.