An Australian woman who is in her forties and has multiple sclerosis will get state funding for a sex therapist under the National Disability Insurance Scheme (NDIS). After the NDIS refused her request, she was granted funding by the Administrative Appeals Tribunal (AAT) this week.
The cost of treatment will be $10,800 per annum, and her plan will be reviewed after one year. The woman had sought insurance funding for bimonthly therapy sessions as she could not afford the service more than twice per year.
Deputy President of the tribnal BW Rayment said that his decision was concerning the particular circumstances of the applicant and not about the general question whether the services of a sex worker could be a reasonable and necessary support for a disabled person.
“I should stress that this case does not, in my opinion, throw up for decision the question whether the services of a sex worker ought, on the proper construction of the Act to be funded for persons with a disability if their needs require it. The applicant does not seek the services of a sex worker. Rather she seeks the services of a specially trained sex therapist,” he said.
“The applicant is a lady in her forties, who has no partner. She ceased seeking a partner at the time of her MS diagnosis, that is, some sixteen to seventeen years ago. She has sexual needs. She attributes her inability to locate a partner to her disability, and has explained why that is so, in evidence which I accept to which the confidential reasons refer. She identifies as a lesbian,” Rayment wrote in his decision describing the condition of the applicant.
“The applicant is afflicted with multiple sclerosis, and has other related conditions, which make the prospect that she will obtain sexual release of any kind without the intervention of a sexual therapist unlikely. She has suffered from multiple sclerosis for some seventeen years or more, and walks with difficulty and with the assistance of strong MS drugs. She has no loss of intellectual capacity. She does not work and her main source of income is the disability support pension,” Rayment said.
Disability advocates have termed the AAT decision as a first step towards people with disability having access to support to have sex.
Matthew Bowden, Co-CEO of People with Disability Australia, welcomed the decision. “We congratulate the applicant, a brave woman with disability who is determined to have the same rights as non-disabled people to an adult sex life,” he said.
“Deputy President Rayment OAM QC of the AAT was considering a specific set of circumstances for this woman with disability but we hope that it now provides the National Disability Insurance Agency (NDIA) with a framework to develop much needed policy in this area. The previous state-based disability support system had long supported people with disability to have funded access to sex work services – now it is time for the NDIS to catch up with this long-standing precedent,” Bowden said.
According to People with Disability Australia, the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (CRPD), which Australia ratified in 2008, says that governments have an obligation to ensure that people with disability can enjoy life to the same extent as their non-disabled peers. The NDIS is underpinned by the CRPD and ensures that the rights of people with disability are paramount in all decisions.