Scarlet Road

Scarlet Road


Reviewed by: Val Kermode

“This is definitely the best stall.” Rachel is at a market selling clothes “All used by sex workers”. As a sign, that certainly beats “Up to 20% off”. She's also advertising International Whores Day. Rachel Wotton is a sex worker in New South Wales, Australia. She is beautiful, warm and engaging, and she loves her work.

About half of Rachel's clients are people with disabilities, people like John, an engineer by trade, whose MS has left him in a wheelchair with chin control. For him Rachel's rare visits are a lifeline, making him feel like a man again. Like many of her disabled clients, he has to save up for a long time to afford Rachel, so she knows that every moment is precious. John describes it to his friends as “like a return from the wilderness”.

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Together with a male co-worker, Rachel runs a group called Touching Base. This is a point of contact for disabled people seeking sex and a place where carers can come to learn more about helping their clients. Rachel reminds them that for many disabled people the only touch they ever receive is the routine of care and cleaning. She explains how to help people express their needs and set boundaries, not easy when your communication is severely limited.

All the work Rachel does is legal in New South Wales, but not yet in other states of Australia, or in many other countries. So she spends much of her time travelling to conventions, trying to change opinion and challenging people's image of sex workers. Her openness clearly startles some and produces some of the film's funnier moments. Rachel studies for an MA in sexual health, so that she can enjoy saying “I'm Dr. Wotton, sex worker.” The fact that the director is a long-time friend of Rachel means that there was a lot of trust involved when filming her work. The scenes with her clients are filmed very sensitively. Mark, one of her regular clients wants for his birthday to have a woman stay the night in his bed, something he has never been able to experience. His mother contacts Rachel and together they prepare for him. They are filmed in close up taking a shower together and talking in bed. The intimacy of the experience and the fact that this is about more than just a sex act is beautifully conveyed.

The film does not shy away from asking awkward questions. Rachel is happy to be open about what she does, but what about those around her? Her mother is not interviewed, but Rachel concedes that it's hard for her. Although she is supportive, she has to suffer the disapproval of her less enlightened neighbours without the support of friends which Rachel has.

And Rachel's boyfriend? He seems like the perfect match for her, equally open and funny, despite admitting to occasional twinges of jealousy. Together they are seen planning their fund raising. Rachel would like to see a Touching Base in every state of Australia and maybe worldwide. They plan to write to Richard Branson for help and come up with the wonderful slogan “It's time to give a fuck.”

This funny and moving film shows a side of sex work that we rarely see and provides valuable insights into a world of people often marginalised in society.

Reviewed on: 16 Jun 2012
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A confident, assertive sex worker discusses her work and what it means to her clients, especially those with disabilities.

Director: Catherine Scott

Starring: Rachel Wotton

Year: 2011

Runtime: 70 minutes

Country: Australia


Doc/Fest 2012

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