Scarlet Road (2011)

Scarlet Road
Director: Catherine Scott
Seen on: 8.6.2017

Rachel Wotton is a sex worker who specialized in working with (physically) disabled clients. At this intersection of taboos – sex work and seeing disabled people as sexual beings – she became an activist who is fighting for the rights of sex workers and the rights of disabled people.

Scarlet Road is an interesting look at a topic that’s usually not talked about. It – rightly – centers the perspective of the people at the heart of the matter, that is: disabled people and sex workers and shows what the topic means to them, making it very insightful, especially when you’re neither a sex worker, nor disabled.

I liked how the documentary was structured. Taking Wotton as the starting point, it follows her closely, both into her private life and into her professional life and her activism that is somewhere between the two. It’s a deeply humanizing look which is doubly necessary because portrayals of sex workers are so often dehumanizing and sensationalistic.

Wotton’s story is supplemented and expanded by the perspective of the disabled clients she works with. We see how she goes about her work with them and we get to hear what she and her work means to them. Two points made over and over again, and very eloquently so, is that one, sex work is (or at least can be) emotional work, it’s working with and through relationships that get built over time and that two, sex is as much a need and desire for disabled people as it is for abled people.

Since the film focuses on Wotton, we hear more about male clients than female clients, but it does include a male sex worker and female clients as well, which I found also important.

Being disabled, in this context, means two things: on the one hand, in ableist societies like ours, disabled people often don’t get the chance to find sexual and romantic relationships the “normal” way (whatever that is) and rely more on sex work. And on the other hand, due to their physical disabilities (if I’m not mistaken, there were no people with mental or cognitive disabilities in the film) sex needs extra care and extra precautions to be good and comfortable – and being a sex worker specialized in working with disabled people is a definite advantage when it comes to that part of things.

To remove the stigma, both from sex work and from disability, takes a lot of work and activism. Wotton herself does a lot of that work, and what’s also very obvious from the film is that sex work needs to be legal to make working conditions and activism good and possible at all. Plus, it’s the only way to get services like, for example, the one introduced in the film where disabled people can find sex workers who are experienced in working with disabled people and disabled bodies.

Wotton actually accompanied the film and there was a discussion afterwards, which I unfortunately couldn’t attend. I’m sure that there would have been more insights for me to hear there. But the documentary itself is already really interesting and a great opportunity to learn.

Summarizing: Yes, watch it, listen and learn.

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