The judgement relates to a man with learning difficulties who is
described as “having a high sex drive”. A man who has in the past used
sex workers and now lives in sheltered accommodation. His disability
makes him vulnerable to exploitation and restricts his understanding
of the risks but his wishes are clear and he would need help to fulfil
them. Social work is about enabling, protecting the individuals rights
and ensuring that “others” concerns for the risks should not over rule
those rights. The local authority has a duty of care towards those
they care for and might be open to prosecution if it facilitated a
crime and paying for sex is a crime ( all be it one that society seems
increasingly ambiguous about). So the Director of social services on
behalf of the local authority decided that they would not help this
man meet sex workers and would seek a judicial judgement to test this
position. The judge found in favour of this approach.
I think the director and local authority bottled it. They side
stepped a controversial decision and chose to put public opinion
before social work values. The should have been fighting to extend the
rights of people with a disability not seeking to restrict them.
What if the man had a physical disability not a learning
disability. What if this person was perfectly capable of assessing the
risks but made his wishes absolutely clear and required help to meet
sex workers. Would social services be right in denying him that help?
I worked in a residential rehab unit with many young men. The aim was
to give these students , that was the preferred term, the skills and
confidence to live independently. Many were wheel chair users as a
result of road traffic accident like motor bike crashes others had
profound disabilities they were born with, all wanted to live
independently whilst recognising they would need practical physical
care. There interests were music, football, computer games and girls.
There opportunities for socialising with the opposite sex were
limited. They were not fit looking wheel chair basketball players with
the well developed upper bodies that we see in the Paralympics, these
guys had chunky electric wheel chairs and not enough upper body
strength to get in and out of bed or on and off the toilet with out
help. They did however have a health sex drive.
David the head of rehab would regularly remind us residential care
staff and social workers of the philosophy of this social service unit
by telling us we were the, “hands and legs of students”. Our role was
to enable not to decide and certainly not to make moral judgements.
Students had choice and the right to take risks and that was a very
important part of retaining their dignity and exercising independence.
I know what he would have thought of this judgement.
Blair Mcpherson ex social worker and former director www.blairmcpherson.co.uk