The Court of Protection’s recent ruling that, as a matter of principle, it would be legal for people involved in the care of a disabled man to help to arrange and pay for his access to prostituted women because he lacks capacity to do so himself, concerns me for several different reasons.
I worked for two years on a zero-hours contract as a support worker for an organisation which provides support services and supported housing to vulnerable adults.
I had previously spent a year in supported housing myself, having been moved there from the temporary accommodation I was sent to as a homeless person following my discharge from an inpatient psychiatric ward. I had landed in the ward after an intervention by my family and being there enabled me to exit prostitution.
The NHS staff who supported me, the local authority social inclusion officer who came to the bed and breakfast where I was living in fear and referred me to supported housing, and the staff at the supported housing premises itself, all played a major role in assisting my recovery and I will always be grateful to them. There is no doubt that my recovery was costly for the British state.
In my role as a support worker, many of the personal budget holders I supported were young people with learning disabilities, many of whom had also been diagnosed with autism. Several of them had experienced sexual abuse when they were children and others had committed what would have been recognised as serious sexual offences against pre-school children had they been prosecuted for them.
I sometimes had to stay in the home overnight on my own as there was 24-hour support for the residents. The first time I did this a young woman who lived there asked whether she could come into the office to continue a private conversation she was having with another female resident. She was glad that a woman was on duty there and wanted me to listen in the background and give advice when they had finished talking.
The young woman she was speaking to disclosed that she had been subjected to a serious sexual assault by a young male resident earlier in the evening. I told both women that I would have to report what had happened and that they had done the right thing by coming to tell me.
I was unable to get through to the duty team or a duty social worker before police officers arrived in response to my call. I sat in the office with a female police officer as she interviewed the traumatised young woman, who blamed herself and said she felt very ashamed.
The detective was very skilled and compassionate in countering this, providing reassurance and asking questions using language the young woman could understand. There was a consultation with senior officers, and it was decided that while the crime would be recorded, no further action would be taken. This was partly because of the vulnerability of both the victim and the perpetrator. I spent most of the next day supporting the victim and helping social workers.
I had previously worked shifts supporting the perpetrator but that stopped after this incident. His mother approached me in the corridor a few days later and shouted at me for reporting her son to the police. I lived in the same neighbourhood. All this was for a wage of £8.80 an hour.
The perpetrator often made inappropriate comments to women. Music videos in which women were objectified and sexualised were what had given him ideas about male entitlement and an entirely unrealistic, male view of female sexuality. It was inappropriate and a violation of our boundaries policy for women supporting him to try to correct the fantasies about sex he had obtained from the internet and spoke about in graphic detail.
I cannot see how being presented with another fantasy created by someone who was being paid to have sex with this young man would have corrected his view of the purpose of females or helped him develop close relationships with women he was not paying to access.
It would have been no more likely to assist in this than the visits to prostituted women in Mayfair arranged by the fathers of public schoolboys who outsourced their sons’ education from the age of eight and perpetuated intergenerational cycles of abuse and attachment difficulties. So, they behave well in public? To paraphrase the legendary Mandy Rice-Davies, “They would, wouldn’t they?”.
Disinhibition displayed by some learning disabled and autistic men is no different from the behaviour men without disabilities display in private with prostituted women because prostitution and porn are the last acceptable reservoirs of hate.
What message would it give to care workers, most of whom are female and on zero-hour contracts and the minimum wage, to see how much the taxpayer pays women who sell sex – as much as 8 or 10 or more times more per hour than they earn? What would this tell them about the value our society puts on care work?
You could not find a better promotional message for prostitution itself, or something more likely to exacerbate recruitment problems in the social care sector.
Getting zero-hours shifts often depended on being someone who was known for helping wherever you were needed. There will be care workers who feel they have as much “choice” over this as a woman has who becomes involved in prostitution because, like me, they had no money, no job and nowhere to live.
Presumably support workers attend visits by men they are supporting to prostitutes in these circumstances because of the requirements about DBS checks for people working with vulnerable adults. This point is not mentioned in the general comments from the judge about “vetting”, or on what is available to the public on the website of the organisation he mentions which connects disabled people with women they can pay for sex.
That a system of payments concealed as “entertainment”, and the involvement of taxpayer-funded facilitators, was concealed from the public, with permission being sought to rubber-stamp it retrospectively, tells you everything you need to know.