Acualités Groupe SOS


European cooperation for the intimate lives of people with disabilities

29 June 2023 • NEWS

Groupe SOS advocates for a full and effective citizenship for people with disabilities. Groupe SOS Solidarités is at the front line in the recognition of people with disabilities’ rights to live freely their emotional and sexual lifeEmilie Pourtalet, Development Manager at Groupe SOS Solidarités, recently submitted an Erasmus+ cooperation project to address this challenge at European level.

87 million Europeans have some form of disability. Groupe SOS Solidarités, managing 71 social health-care institutions for people with disabilities in France, offers support and solutions to about 4,400 beneficiaries of all ages and with all forms of disabilities, both physical and mental. To enable all people with disabilities to access full and effective citizenship, Groupe SOS Solidarités published a plea featuring 8 proposals, based on the daily experience of its professionals in the field. Among these proposals, it advocates for the right of people with disabilities to have an emotional and sexual life, as many barriers still exist to the effectiveness of this right.

Today, meet Emilie Pourtalet, Development Manager at Groupe SOS Solidarités, main contributor for this plea, who recently submitted an Erasmus+ cooperation project in order to address the issue from a European perspective.

What does Groupe SOS Solidarités do in favour of the emotional and sexual life of people with disability?

During the last 5 years, Groupe SOS Solidarités has made the intimate, loving and sexual life of people with disabilities one of its priorities. We have set up a multi-disciplinary working group, which has helped to develop an internal policy on this topic.  We also published an easy-to-read brochure for our beneficiaries, addressing key topics like masturbation, intimate relationships or parenting. A series of videos have also been produced, as well as a 3-day training course, provided to all of our healthcare professionals, to encourage them to think about their place in relation to the people they care for and about the necessary conditions on which an intimate, loving and sexual life for people with disabilities may be built, ensuring it is free from any judgments.

As we take action to allow our beneficiaries with disabilities to access these rights, we realize that it is often complicated, if not legally unfeasible to satisfy their emotional and sexual needs. Indeed, sexual assistance from specialized and trained professionals may be the right solution for some of them, but French law does not allow people with disabilities to receive sexual assistance, considered as a form of prostitution.

In general, sex and love for people with disabilities are still often seen as a taboo, which does not help the emergence of a nation – or even a Europe-wide dialogue and policy we wish to witness.

 Why the need for European cooperation on this topic? And why an Erasmus+ project?

We think we could greatly benefit from a dialogue with European counterparts to strengthen our advocacy in favour of the right of people with disabilities to express and meet their affective and sexual needs.

In our facilities, we try to discuss this topic with our beneficiaries, their families as well as with our professionals, but the issue cannot be fully discussed, and we certainly cannot move from words to actions, since a legal framework for sexual assistance is still missing in France.

In February 2023, the French national advisory council for people with disabilities (Conseil National Consultatif des Personnes Handicapées, CNCPH), proposed the introduction of pilot projects covering sexual assistance in some French territories and the authorisation of sexual assistance for people with disabilities. While France has recently moved the first steps, there are countries in Europe, namely Denmark, Germany, the Netherlands, Belgium and Switzerland, where a political debate has already taken place years ago, giving birth to a legal framework for sexual assistance.

Working with our Erasmus+ partner, a Belgian association with a decade-long experience in this field, we hope in some way to encourage the emergence of a Europe-wide dialogue, enrich the debate in France and accelerate our path towards this objective.

The European funding programme Erasmus+ supports, among others, projects that enable professionals to improve their skills through the exchange of good practices between European organizations. We applied to the Erasmus+ programme because, if the project is selected, it will allow us to discuss this universal issue in a proper framework.

What does this project consist of?

The aim of the project, called VIAS+ (acronym for Intimate, Loving and Sexual Life+ in French), is mainly to compare our experiences, share our points of view, and put together our training, communication tools and methodologies. It will allow us to make the most of the experience of an association operating in a country where sexual assistance has been successfully practised for several years now. The project also intends to result in the elaboration of an advocacy paper for the recognition of sexual assistance as a healthcare service, of course with a European-scale ambition.

In practical terms, the Erasmus+ programme will, upon selection, fund our staff’s travels between Antwerp and Paris, as well as events and communication activities. This will ensure wider dissemination of the project.

 Why is this project so important for Groupe SOS Solidarités?

For this challenge, as for many others, we are convinced that Europe is needed to speed up our progress towards a fairer and more inclusive society for all. Several European countries already have a legal framework allowing the work of sexual life assistants. We believe that a common European debate will accelerate the improvement of an adapted legal framework for sexual assistance for people with disabilities in Member States that are least advanced on the subject.

We are looking forward to initiating our collaboration with our Belgian Erasmus+ partner and seeing what unfolds!

What are the next steps for this European project?

Erasmus+ cooperation projects results will be unveiled next month, in July. If our project is selected, it will kick off in November with the launch event in Antwerp and will be carried out for a whole year, until November 2024. Should we not get the funding from the European Commission as of this year, we would still keep in touch with our Belgian partner association, and maybe improve our project for the next open call. We are convinced that the Erasmus+ programme is the best suited framework to discuss the access to rights of people with disabilities in Europe and we are determined to seize this opportunity to encourage a Europe-wide dialogue.



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