The last decade has seen an expansion in initiatives promoting the development of special sex services oriented to people with disabilities, which in Europe are increasingly labelled ‘sexual assistance’. These have become the object of political and media attention, and arguably call for a critical analysis incorporating both disability and sex workers’ rights perspectives. Based on an 18-month embedded participant observation, I explore the case of a grassroots organisation which brings together sexual assistants, disabled activists and (potential) clients, and their allies in Switzerland. Opposing ‘therapy’, ‘charity’, and ‘care’ approaches to sexual assistance, members of this organisation work within their own model of ‘ethical’ services. While they place sexual pleasure at the centre of this approach, in practice, they promote forms of self-regulation aimed at limiting the risks of sex services, connected in particular to intimate violence, stigmatisation, sex normativity, and the role of intermediaries. Clearly rooted in a disability rights perspective, this grassroots initiative does not only concern sexual assistance but more largely sex services. In this sense, this study invites us to look at sexual assistance as an interesting space for alliance between sex workers’ rights and the rights of people with disabilities, as a uniquely politicised group of (potential) clients.
Drawing upon over a decade of research in our respective communities, we argue that the intergenerational socioeconomic insecurities and violence prevalent in the lives of North American street-involved women, their families, and others in their social circles constitute a set of shared precarities. Taking both socioinstitutional and interpersonal forms, shared precarities obviate the women’s rights to access the lived experience and social status of motherhood. Yet they also engender maternal subjectivities reflective of the ambivalence, temporal ambiguity, and interconnections between family and state structures that characterize the women’s child custody arrangements. These maternal subjectivities, and the shared precarities that give rise to them, emphasize how individual members of marginalized communities cope with violence generated by the legitimation of particular family forms and devaluation/criminalization of others.
The article, based on policy analysis, institutional interviews and community fieldwork, looks at why children in prostitution and victims of trafficking remain practically without state support and institutional assistance. It also explores to what extent the decriminalisation of the system assisting child victims of prostitution and trafficking, or the shift from the ‘punishment’ to the ‘welfare model’, has taken place. The ethnic aspect of the problem is addressed as well given that the majority of victims are of Roma origin. While Hungary has ratified all important international conventions that oblige the country to protect child victims, neither its policies and legislation nor its institutions including child protection, law enforcement and the judiciary, seem to have adequate structural frameworks and institutional practices to attend to these children and prosecute offenders. Policy gaps, institutional procedures and practices are identified and it is concluded that the country is still much closer to the ‘punishment model’.