Disabled organisation withdraws sex project

Project organiser Nina de Vries has already done similar work in Germany Keystone Archive

A Swiss organisation for handicapped people has gone back on its plans to offer sexual services to the disabled.

This content was published on September 11, 2003 - 19:31

Pro Infirmis says it decided to end its direct involvement in the project after suffering a sharp fall in donations.

The pilot scheme was unveiled in April by Pro Infirmis’ Zurich branch, which wanted to train 12 professional “touchers”. The successful applicants were then expected to offer sexual and emotional relief to Zurich’s disabled community.

But, according to Pro Infirmis, the idea proved unpopular with many donors.

“Compared to last year, we have seen a drop of up to SFr400,000 ($288,000) in mailed donations,” Pro Infirmis spokesman Mark Zumbühl told swissinfo.

“We had quite a lot of bad reactions, even though the initial media coverage was generally positive.

“It’s sad because we live in a society that is always talking about how free and liberal we are when it comes to sexuality, but when you get to a more taboo subject such as sex for the disabled, attitudes change.”

Funding

Zumbühl points out that the touchers project would not in any case have been financed by donated money but from separate Pro Infirmis funds. Since that message apparently failed to get through to the organisation’s donors, Pro Infirmis felt forced to pull the plug.

“The money required to finance the training programme is ridiculously small, just SFr30-40,000 for the whole project,” says Zumbühl.

“But if this one project were to jeopardise the funding of all our other projects for disabled people, then we’d clearly have a problem.”

Despite its decision to withdraw direct funding for the training programme, Pro Infirmis says it still hopes to support the touchers project from afar.

“We have not exactly stopped the project,” explains Zumbühl. “But we are looking for an independent association to take over, and put some distance between the programme and Pro Infirmis.

Given the small amount of money required, we are fairly confident that a new organisation will be able to continue the training programme within two or three months.”

Training terminated

However, until then the Pro Infirmis decision has put an end to the training programme, which had been due to start at the end of August under the guidance of Dutch disabled-sex pioneer Nina de Vries.

“It’s a pity,” de Vries told swissinfo, “because we got a really good group of people together who are eager to do the training and start work.

“I know that Pro Infirmis did a survey and found support of around 80 per cent for the project but obviously some of their donors, perhaps older, more traditional donors have had a problem with it even though their donations weren’t being used.

I’ll be staying in contact with all the people involved though, and we’ll just have to be patient.”

swissinfo, Mark Ledsom in Zurich

Key facts

Nationwide, Pro Infirmis provides free advice and services for more than 18,000 disabled people a year.
The organisation is backed by public funding and private donations.
The “touchers” project was organised only by the organisation’s Zurich branch.
Donations to Pro Infirmis fell by up to SFr400,000 after the project was publicised.

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