As the country discusses regularising prostitution, we should also look into the employment of sex workers for people with a disability, Commissioner Oliver Scicluna said this week.

Mr Scicluna floated the idea of starting a discussion about this service, practised abroad, during a seminar aimed at breaking the taboo around sex and disability.

The Commissioner for the Rights of People with a Disability noted that while he was not proposing the introduction, or not, of such a service, he would like to kick off a discussion.

The conference is called Breaking the Silence, and if we intend to remain silent, we might as well just pack up and leave, he said, insisting on the need to take the discussion forward.

“One of my obligations as Commissioner is to be the voice of people with a disability who share their pain with me. I will not let them down and I will continue to raise their concerns.”

Some of those who spoke at the event mentioned overprotective parents or carers and a lack of education at secondary schools as the main barriers to sex and healthy relationships for people with a disability.

Earlier this month, Mr Scicluna told The Sunday Times of Malta that due to such challenges, some people with a disability might even resort to dangerous or illicit means to fulfil sexual needs, such as sleeping with women in prostitution (potentially contracting sexually transmitted diseases).

One of the speakers at the conference, Clifford Portelli, recalled the spinal-cord injury that left him paralysed at 16, an age when he was exploring various aspects of sexuality but never asked for explanations.

This was probably because the topic was taboo, but after his injury, sexuality became even more of a challenge for him because of his disability and the surrounding prejudice.

Mr Portelli, who went on to marry his wife, Josianne, had convinced himself sexuality was not important and thought he could ignore it, but he later realised that most of his concerns were common, whether people had a disability or not.

One of the highlights of yesterday’s seminar was an address by English sociologist and broadcaster Prof. Thomas William Shakespeare, who called the event “brave and necessary”.

“We need the words at this seminar to echo beyond this room and travel across Malta.

“This is not just about disability. In all cultures, sexuality is a difficult topic to discuss… But there are very strong taboos around disability,” he said, adding that some perceived those with a disability as asexual, ‘innocent’, or in need of protection.

Prof. Shakespeare also commented on the engagement of sex workers for people with a disability. Insisting on the importance of protecting against trafficking and pimping, he referred to the Australian charity Touching Base.

This organisation facilitates connections between people with a disability and the sex industry while raising public and professional awareness of the issues surrounding the access and provision of sex services for people with a disability.

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