Good morning, everybody. It's a real honour and a privilege to be here today. I got to know many of you over the process of advocating for the motion, so it's an honour for me here today to address the committee as a whole. Thank you for inviting me here.
It has been an interesting road that I've travelled for the first 18 months since I was elected. I was honoured to receive support from every party in the House of Commons for the motion M-47. I think that reflects the gravity of the negative health impacts on youth and adults who access and view online sexual violence.
Since M-47 was adopted, I have received inquiries from around the world. Countries as far away as Denmark have been astonished at M-47's success through the House of Commons. They view the adoption of M-47 as a progressive step towards gender equality and look forward to the outcome of this study.
I don't mean to add any more pressure to this committee, but other countries are looking at what Canada is going to do. We will probably set an example for the world in addressing the negative health impacts of sexual violence online. They see us as cutting edge on this issue.
It's hard to believe that it has been over 30 years since the House of Commons has taken on a study of this topic, especially the issue of sexually explicit material. Thirty years ago, the Internet never even existed. We're in a whole new world, as they say. Even back then before the Internet, that committee found that sexually explicit material perpetrates “lies about aspects of women's humanity and denies the validity of their aspirations to be treated as full and equal citizens.”
A lot of people, when they think of pornography today, think of Playboy. But the fact is that online adult content has shifted, due to the explosion of the Internet, to a much more explicit form of material, the vast majority of which features violence and degradation.
I want to share a few key statistics about sexually explicit material and the industry behind it. In Canada, the average age of first exposure to sexually explicit material for boys is 12 years old. Sexually explicit websites get more visitors each month than Netflix, Amazon, and Twitter combined, with PornHub, the largest free site in Canada, alone receiving over 21 billion visits in 2015.
Thirty-five per cent of all Internet downloads are sexually explicit. Globally, sexually explicit material represents a $97 billion industry. Almost 90% of mainstream sexually explicit content features violence towards women. Sexually explicit material has become the primary source of information about sex and a significant factor influencing sexual behaviours for children and adolescents.
Let that sink in for a minute. A $97-billion industry that makes up 35% of all Internet downloads, that is easily accessible by the click of a button, and that primarily features violence and degradation of women is the primary sexual educator of our youth, starting from the age of 12.
As a result, boys and girls are being taught that violence and degradation is acceptable and to be accepted. As they grow up to be women and men, they are denied meaningful relationships. This is impacting the physical, mental, and emotional health of many young Canadians who will grow up to be mothers, fathers, doctors, lawyers, teachers, and legislators.
We need federal leadership through the lens of the public health model, and I hope that the study by and recommendations of this committee will set the stage for leadership from the government. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention explain the public health model approach as: define the problem, identify risk and protective factors, develop initiatives and programs, and invest in widespread adaptation of effective efforts.
In Canada, and globally, we are the first on the stage on this issue. We need to define the extent of the harm to the health of Canadians, especially our youth. There has been extensive research undertaken regarding the impact of accessing and viewing violent and degrading sexually explicit material, but it has to be addressed within the public health model approach.
If we think back to the fight against tobacco, the key shift didn't occur until the harm was recognized and the public health model approach was taken. We explored and defined the problem, identified the risks and preventative factors, and developed a public health campaign. We saw success in that there was a widespread adoption of effective initiatives. Over the past 30 years, tobacco use by Canadians under the age of 24 has been cut in half and smoking cigarettes is no longer socially acceptable.
Now, some may say that people are not impacted by media and marketing and kids are especially impacted by what they view. But the evidence tells us otherwise, especially in research done by health organizations. For example, this year's report from the Heart and Stroke Foundation focuses on the harmful impacts of online marketing and media. I have it right here. They say, “The kids are not alright”, and that's just with regard to the food and beverage sector, never mind that the largest portion of the Internet is being used for sexually explicit materials, not food marketing.
The message throughout the report communicates the same message that child advocates and research on this issue want to emphasize. It notes:
Marketing is big business and it is sophisticated. Millions of dollars are spent convincing our impressionable children and teens they want a whole range of products, including food and beverages that are having a devastating effect on their health.
These tactics are employed by every industry, especially the pornography industry. As I mentioned earlier, 40 years of multidisciplinary research on the emotional, social, developmental, behavioural, and cognitive impacts of exposure to sexually explicit material have been undertaken. That is why I am urging this committee to undertake a robust and in-depth study.
There are many experts who are available to speak to the committee about public health impacts of online sexually violent and degrading material. In fact, the motion that I put forward received support from nearly 60 organizations from across the country, and that has nothing to do with the front-line workers and the academics who are working in this field, or the health care providers who see the effects of this every day.
This committee needs to hear from researchers, academics, and health experts on how the evidence shows the harms of viewing and accessing sexually explicit material. Some people you might like to hear from include Dr. Kim Roberts from Wilfrid Laurier University, who works on child memory development and has consulted on thousands of cases of child sexual abuse, or Dr. Mary Anne Layden, a psychotherapist at the Center for Cognitive Therapy at the University of Pennsylvania. She can speak on how the exposure shapes attitudes and behaviours; shapes sexual templates; shapes gender and sexual identity; encourages risky behaviours; limits capacity to develop intimate and life-affirming relationships, both platonic and sexual; leads to body dysmorphia; can lead to habitual and addictive porn consumption; and can undermine a healthy, connected, stable adulthood for men and women.
You could also hear from Dr. Donald Hilton, a well-known neurosurgeon, who can speak on how viewing sexually explicit material can shape and rewire an adolescent brain.
The Public Health Agency of Canada lists exposure to sexually explicit material as a contributing factor on sibling violence. The Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Health noted in her speech in the House in support of my motion that there is a staggering 342% increase in the reports of child sexual abuse over four years to Cybertip.ca.
The committee should also consider that as many as one in six girls and one in 12 boys are currently experiencing sexual abuse. Dr. Peter Silverstone, co-author of a new study out of the University of Alberta states:
When all types of sexual abuse are combined including exposure to pornography or other sexual material, the number of children sexually abused is as high as 1 in 3 girls and 1 in 6 boys.
The committee also needs to hear from people from the front lines, such as pediatricians, registered nurses, psychologists, child development researchers, Canadian front-line service providers for abused women and children, teachers, social workers, and the like. They will all tell you about the direct impacts on the health of women, men, and children that exposure to sexually explicit material is having.
They will tell you that the public health issues include sexually transmitted infections; the direct impact on women who are not just minors who continue to be viewed as objects to be sexually assaulted or tortured by family members, partners, or strangers; how harming women has become normalized by the pornography industry; the prevalence of revenge porn and the resulting suicides; the direct impact on young men, including erectile dysfunction, addiction, loss of motivation; increased support for sexual coercion; and the relationship between pseudo child sexual assault and real child sexual assault.
The renowned Sheldon Kennedy Child Advocacy Centre puts it this way:
The impact of exposure to pornography, sexual exploitation and the overall sexualisation of children results in traumatic and detrimental outcomes for a child. It is our view that it is society's collective responsibility to protect children outweighing concerns about censorship.... Any exposure to adult or child pornographic images is abuse and children are detrimentally harmed and further victimized by these actions.
Yet today, the $97-billion pornography industry has unparalleled and uninhibited access to our youth, marketing violence and degradation on a level never before seen. We need to be bold. We need to take action.