Disabled people living in Zurich are to be offered professional sexual services, as part of a new trial project.This content was published on April 8, 2003 - 10:37
The organisation behind the scheme says the sexual rights of disabled people are currently being overlooked.
"There is a very big demand for this," says Angela Fürer, director of the Zurich branch of the social welfare organisation Pro Infirmis. "We have been hearing about the problem for years, both from disabled people and from those working with the disabled."
Pro Infirmis Zurich is looking to train ten "touchers" who will then offer their services on a private basis. More than 150 people have already expressed an interest.
After training, the successful applicants will be expected to offer sexual and emotional relief to Zurich's disabled community.
Full sex and oral sex will not be included in the initial service, although Fürer says that the service could be widened at a later date, possibly by training registered prostitutes to deal with the specific needs of disabled customers.
"The people we are looking for should have very human personalities," adds Fürer, "and they must also be prepared to reflect those personalities in their work."
First for Switzerland
The scheme may be a first for Switzerland, but similar projects have been running for years in other countries, including Germany, Denmark and the Netherlands.
One of the Dutch pioneers in the field, Nina de Vries, has been brought in by Pro Infirmis to run the training programme in Switzerland.
De Vries insists that careful vetting of applicants along with the intensive nature of the training programme will help eliminate any risk of abuse or exploitation.
"For now, we will just be offering massage, body contact, stroking, holding and bringing people to orgasm, if that is what they wish," says de Vries. "But the main part of the training course will deal with the mental and emotional aspects of the job.
"It can be very difficult for some disabled people to take off their clothes and show a body which is deformed and I feel you can only expect people to put that kind of trust in you and offer their vulnerability when you yourself are willing to be vulnerable."
So far, Fürer says that only a handful of complaints have been received. In recognition of the project's controversial nature, however, Pro Infirmis will not use money from general donations to fund the training.
"Clearly there will be people who are offended, perhaps in terms of their religious or ethical beliefs," Fürer admits, "so we have no intention of using donations that aren't specifically given for this scheme.
"On the whole, though, the response we've had has been extremely positive with many disabled people calling us to say how happy they are.
"These are people who don't just want to spend their lives breathing and eating and being cleaned up. They have souls and feelings like everybody else and sexuality is a part of their lives, just as it is with any other human being."
swissinfo, Mark Ledsom in Zurich
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 is being run, initially, only by the organisation's Zurich branch.
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