Disabled person who had success

By Benjamin Piel, awarded the Reportage Prize for Young Journalists 2014

Betty is 73 and a virgin. A man has never caressed her naked body. Betty is almost blind and mentally disabled. She has never felt the tingling in her stomach. "I have courage," says Betty and nods, "I have courage."

It's Friday evening in the guest house in Trebel, Lower Saxony. Disabled people and their carers sit at a long table. Candles are burning, chestnuts are lying next to colorful leaves on the table top. Some are spooning pumpkin soup, others are queuing at the buffet. "We have to pray first," says a handicapped man with a beard and folds his hands. "Come, Lord Jesus, be our guest and bless what you have given us. Amen."

"I'm Lothar Sandfort and I'm disabled," says a man in a wheelchair. "We can see that when you sit there in your wheelchair," says the bearded man. Sandfort is a psychologist and heads the Institute for Self-Determination of the Disabled (ISBB). An erotic workshop begins today. Disabled people who long for sex meet sexual companions in training who offer them sex for a fee. "If you want to have a date, you have to go to the sexual companion and tell him or her what you want," says Sandfort, "you can have sex, but you don't have to." Betty jerks her head up and laughs. "I'm looking forward to it," she says, and her fiery red colored locks wiggle back and forth.

Betty comes from Berlin-Kreuzberg. "They throw bottles on May 1st," she says. For decades she has lived in a home for the disabled in Brandenburg. She used to work in a workshop for the disabled, screwing hooks onto furniture. Betty has been a pensioner for eight years and receives 300 euros a month. She can hardly walk. Slowly she puts one foot in front of the other, arches her back, feels her way along tables, chairs and walls. Betty likes to live and talk a lot. Her scratchy voice is loud. She wears eleven rings on her hands, earrings, and a chain dangling from her neck with a large amber hanging from it. If she holds it very close to her eye, she can sometimes see a sparkle. Betty has her supervisor pour her a second glass of red wine. "I like drinking." Betty wants a man who caresses and massages her. "I want someone who is strong, and he'll probably say to me, 'Take off your clothes, little mouse,'" she says.

It is prostitution, but not a mechanical act

Jean is not actually called Jean. But when the man from Zurich is on the road as a sexual companion, that's what he calls himself. Jean is around 60 and a math teacher. For some time he has been offering erotic services to disabled women, massaging them from top to bottom, caressing them, fulfilling sexual fantasies. "Sex is not always possible, because I have to be aroused myself," he says. He speaks slowly and with a Swiss accent, the words are long, his voice is deep and gentle. Jean found out about sexual accompaniment on the radio. Now he's almost finished with his training.

Before, Jean would not have imagined having sex with disabled people. But then he discovered Tantra, got to know new sides of sexuality. "I can empathize very well with the situation of the disabled, with their unfulfilled longings and that gives me a lot." The service he offers and for which he gets 90 euros an hour is prostitution, yes, but not a mechanical performance of movements, but a deep encounter between two people.

"It's easy for me to give these people attention," he says, stroking his white mustache. He would love to be open about having sex with disabled people, but Jean has to be careful. It is particularly dangerous as a teacher, he fears incomprehension. Jean wants a world without this taboo. He told his four children about it and didn't want a double life. There is no woman to whom he would have to confess his mission. "I also told my good friends," he says. After that, no one broke his friendship. In two years he wants to get out of school, which he often feels as a burden.

"You can do anything for me," she says

"I feel like it and I have courage," says Betty. Jean sits down next to her. "Do you know how old I am?", She asks him, "73 - some say I look younger." - "Yes, I think so too," says Jean. "Have you ever had a husband?" - "No, no, never." - "I have four children and I had a wife, but now I'm divorced." He takes her chain between his fingers. "An amber?" - "Yes, I bought it in Zinnowitz." - "It's very beautiful". Betty laughs, takes Jean's hand and holds it tight. "What's your name?" - "Jean" - "Jens?" - "No, Jean, that's a French name." - "Oh, French." She laughs. "I want to ask the man if he wants to touch me." - "I am the man." - "Aaaaah," she says and raises her eyebrows. "We both do it," says Jean. "You can do anything for me," she says, leans over to him and giggles. "But we'll discuss that in private," says Betty. She only has one eye, the other is made of glass. She takes her harmonica out of her pocket and plays. Do you know how many little stars there are. "That's nice," says Jean.

Betty's supervisor Mirko had suggested going to Trebel. At the facility where he works, many employees are open about sex. Mirko has founded a working group on the subject, invites disabled people to men's groups, organizes discos for singles, and appoints sexual companions to the facility. Since then, carers and disabled people have been speaking more openly about the topic. "Fortunately, the management is open-minded," he says. The disabled would return from Trebel changed: "Many pay more attention to their appearance, are more self-confident, calmer, less aggressive, and deeply relaxed."