July 21, 2014

Disability, Sexuality and the Legalization of Prostitution

Fran Odette

Fran Odette, Senior Research and Development Consultant, DAWN-RAFH Canada


Myths about People with Disabilities and Sexuality should not be used to support Legalization of Prostitution

July 21, 2014 (Montreal) Since the Supreme Court of Canada ruling in the Bedford case struck down some of Canada’s prostitution laws on December 20, 2013, various assertions have been made in favour of the complete decriminalization of prostitution.

 As the debate continues on Parliament Hill and across the country, one of these assertions focuses on the role that sex workers play in ensuring that people with disabilities (particularly men) have access to ‘safe’ paid sex with sex workers who are ‘trained’ specifically to work with people with disabilities.

“However there is no data to support this as a reason for the legalization of prostitution,” says Bonnie Brayton, National Executive Director of the DisAbled Women’s Network / Reseau d’action des femmes handicapées (DAWN-RAFH) Canada. “First of all, it is an ableist argument, and secondly, it re-enforces a sexist notion of male dominance, that men should have the sexual right to access the female body.”

Fran Odette, co-author of “The Ultimate Guide to Sex and Disability”, notes that “the pre-occupation with people with disabilities as recipients of paid sex disregards the reality that millions of Canadian women and men with disabilities engage in healthy, normal sexual activity every day.”

DAWN-RAFH Canada is also concerned that the socio-economic exclusion of people with disabilities are more likely to put them at risk for exploitation along with, and as sex workers, who may experience exploitation by those who ‘purchase’ sex and by those who exploit sex workers.

According to the United Nations, there are more than half a billion women with disabilities globally. They are consistently the lowest income group in any nation, developing or developed. Additionally, women with disabilities are known to suffer the highest rates of sexual violence.

“Based on these facts, and due to ableist attitudes that reflect narrow definitions of desirability and desire, we can assume that a higher than average number of sex workers are also women with disabilities, many of whom may not self-identify,” Brayton contends. However, there is no existing research to confirm this, Odette notes, as data collection of this nature has not been undertaken in Canada or elsewhere.

“In a Canadian context we know there are people with disabilities who may engage in activity which may include sexual expression with a sex worker,” say Odette.  “We know of instances of exploitation by sex workers of persons with disabilities. However, we also know of sex workers who are committed to providing good service to people with disabilities, with fairness and with dignity”.

DAWN-RAFH Canada supports legislation that will place sex work and individuals who engage in sex work, in control of both their physical and moral person, and reduces the risk of harm or violence in carrying out their work and would criminalize anyone who seeks to harm or exploit them.

DAWN-RAFH Canada is a national, feminist, cross-disability organization whose mission is to end the poverty, isolation, discrimination and violence experienced by Canadian women with disabilities and Deaf women.


For more information contact:

Hanane Khales

Communications Coordinator, DAWN-RAFH Canada


Tel: 514-396-0009 Ext. 2506


For media interview or comments contact:


Carmela Hutchinson

President, DAWN-RAFH Canada

Tel: 1-403-935-4218

Email: carmela.hutchison@gmail.com


Fran Odette

Senior Research and Development Consultant, DAWN-RAFH Canada

Tel: (416) 540-9152

Email: cnwonder@rogers.com