Published May 07, 2012"The sessions I have with Rachel are important to me because they bring out my sexuality. She touches me all over and plays with my balls," says one of Australian sex worker Rachel Wotton's Cerebral Palsy afflicted customers in the robotic voice often associated with Stephen Hawking. It's a consistent theme driven home throughout Catherine Scott's decidedly single-minded documentary feature, Scarlet Road, wherein physically disabled people express intense emotional gratitude for the service Rachel provides: being able to experience human tenderness and sexuality like everyone else.
Two of her clients allow the cameras into their homes during their sessions, sharing intimate details about the significance of these visits, as well as the overall isolation of living with a severe disability, unable to use arms or legs. Their candid detailing of the experience in relation to their emotional state of being gives heart to the film, while we learn about Wotton's pride advocacy work and efforts to open a not-for-profit brothel that caters to disabled people.
But where Scarlet Road runs into problems is in its deliberate omission of anything that might shed light on the other side of the sex industry, where prostitutes aren't articulate university graduates using the platform of empowering those with special needs to leverage their own sex worker pride of identity. Everything is so sunny and idealised that even the topic of purchasing prostitutes for those with Down Syndrome comes off as profoundly charitable, ignoring the sticky notion of diminished mental capacity.
Since the scope of Scarlet Road is so narrow, it's hard not to speculate about Wotton's childhood or secondary motivations, both of which never come up during the film. What's more interesting are the brief interviews with the mother of an adult man suffering from Cerebral Palsy, where she talks about buying her son a sex worker for his birthday.
This emotionally wrenching segment gives us just a glimpse into her life, which, as we can see, will be spent looking after her son every day until she is no longer physically able to do so. (Screen Australia)