Great, thank you.
Good afternoon, and thank you for the opportunity to be here.
I would like to begin with acknowledging the Nishnawbe territory, which we all have the privilege of being on. I would also like to acknowledge the women and girls of sex trafficking, and their families. Some of them will appear here as survivor leaders and many are watching. We honour their voices.
I'm presenting this afternoon representing the work of the Canadian Women's Foundation to end sex trafficking of women and girls in Canada by referring to the voices of trafficked women as much as possible.
My three key messages today are that Canadian Women's Foundation is currently the preeminent expert on sex trafficking in Canada; that while the government's proposed legislation does offer some promising advances related to sex trafficking, there is room for improvements for trafficked women and girls; and that women and girls who are survivors of sex trafficking have been silenced and their perspectives must be part of this discussion.
First, I want to clarify that the Canadian Women's Foundation's expertise is in sex trafficking, which we define as forced prostitution. We are not experts on consensual prostitution. We are here because we feel compelled to share what we know about sex trafficking in Canada and its connection to prostitution. There are girls and women across our country who are trafficked into forced prostitution and are prevented by their exploiters from being heard. We are focused on breaking this silence. We are shining a spotlight on the voices and the unique needs of trafficked women and girls who are in the sex industry against their will. It is our hope that you will learn from our expertise on sex trafficking to inform your decision on Bill C-36.
The mission of the Canadian Women's Foundation is to empower women and girls across Canada to move out of violence, out of poverty, and into confidence. Over the last 23 years, we have invested over $40 million in grants to 1,300 community programs, including every women's shelter in Canada.
In 2012, the Canadian Women's Foundation formally launched a major initiative to help end sex trafficking. We invested $2 million in this important work and it focused on six priority areas. You have some of that information in your package.
We had a national task force of 24 experts from across Canada. These experts included survivors, front-line community organizations, police, and representatives from legal, justice, policy, research, and national organizations, including an indigenous elder and the co-chair of the Government of Canada's federal national action plan to combat trafficking in persons.
We travelled to 10 cities across Canada. We met with over 260 organizations and 160 survivors of sex trafficking. We also organized two national round tables, one with service providers and another with survivors of sex trafficking.
We have also invested over $800,000 in grants to fund grassroots community organizations, and we just launched a public awareness campaign about sex trafficking in Canada yesterday.
This fall, the Canadian Women's Foundation will be launching the task force's recommendations and the Canadian Women's Foundation's anti-trafficking strategy. This strategy is rooted in women's equality, and we'll be happy to share that strategy with you when it's ready.
Meanwhile, here are the few highlights of what we have learned.
Sex trafficking needs to be understood in the context of other forms of violence against women and girls, including domestic violence, sexual assault, the glorification of sexual exploitation, and the proliferation of child pornography, also know as child abuse images.
Sex trafficking is a deeply gendered practice. Most of the people being trafficked in Canada are Canadian women and girls, and most of the people who benefit or gain from their sexual exploitation are men.
Girls and women are being trafficked into and within Canada. Sex trafficking is connected to prostitution. Trafficked women and girls are forced into prostitution, often in the same locations, such as massage parlours, escort agencies, and strip clubs, and are advertised in the same publications by their traffickers.
Law enforcement officials told us that when the burden of evidence is too high to meet the threshold of Canada's new human trafficking legislation, they will fall back on the prostitution legislation to immediately intervene between a trafficker and a victim.
But although these issues are linked, we must never forget that trafficked women and girls have no choice, have no voice, and are victims of a crime.
Our comments on Bill C-36 are based on our expertise developed through the work of the task force and from survivors.
This bill does a few things to help protect trafficked women and girls. The legislation allows that sex trafficking and prostitution are connected, and proposes legislative changes to protect sex-trafficking victims. It acknowledges that trafficked women and girls require supportive services to exit.
The legislation also provides a few additional law enforcement tools related to sex trafficking, such as withholding or destroying documents, defining a weapon as anything to hold someone against their will, taking into consideration prior sentences for repeated trafficking-related crimes, and designating traffickers as long-term offenders, plus modernizing the procuring offence to align better with human trafficking offences, and increasing protection and prosecution for sexual offences against children under 16.
However, the legislation should be improved to better recognize the needs of women and girls who are trafficked. We would like to see a significant increase in funding of services. The $20-million investment, and we've heard this time and time again, is not enough. There is no quick fix for services for trafficked women and girls, and we need to view this issue with the long term in mind, address the root causes, and support survivor-led initiatives.
We are deeply concerned for the potential of trafficked women and girls to be criminalized if they are forced by their trafficker in any of the criminal provisions within Bill C-36. For example, it is not clear how the complexities of women and girls who are trafficked can be protected when forced to be on the streets, or advertised online. How can we make sure victims of sex trafficking are not criminalized?
We'd also like to stress that trafficked minors under the age of 18 are victims of child abuse, and offenders should be prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law. Criminal provisions must reflect the seriousness of the harm done to a minor, and we recommend increasing sentencing for obtaining sexual services from a person under 18.
This is the most important part of my presentation, and this is a survivor voice of sex trafficking. Trafficked girls and women have been silenced by their exploiters. The Canadian Women's Foundation is committed to ensuring their voices are heard and their unique needs are addressed. Based on what survivors shared with us, this is a summary of a common sex trafficking experience.
Many survivors were recruited around the age of 13, often through betrayal of trust or a promise of a better life. One former trafficker bragged about how easy it was to lure, and recruit, and intimidate and control young girls into forced prostitution. One survivor told us:
I was in a room with a bunch of girls and we had to take our clothes off and they decided how much we were worth. I thought I was going to be a model. I was then taken to Calgary and forced and watched.
Another woman said, “For me it was an escape from an abusive household. I was 13. He was in his 30s.”
Trafficked women and girls are victims of a serious crime. One woman shared a particularly harrowing story:
I was beaten and held in a hotel for 14 weeks. People watched as six large men dragged me down the street and then turned their heads away. The cops laughed at me. The traffickers lit my parent's house on fire and my mom almost died.
Another said, “They always talked about killing me—killing me, my sister, or my dog.”
Many victims try to escape without success. One woman said, “I tried 10 times to exit, but didn't get out until I was 29 years old.”
Another said, “It was the $50,000 exit fee that stopped me from leaving.”
Many survivors become trauma-bonded with their trafficker, seeing them as someone who loves them and who will protect them. We have to understand that this is how they survive. As one survivor said:
My (exploiters) found out what was tough about my life. They learned about my parents, my siblings and my school. They put it all together and used it.
By their mid-twenties, many survivors are discarded by their traffickers because they are considered too old, and because demand is higher for younger girls. At this point, one of three things typically happens. One, they enter the survival sex industry, exchanging sex acts for basic economic survival. Or they end their own life, or become part of the missing and murdered women and girls. Or they begin the long, hard road of recovery and rebuilding lives, which many women do, and achieve great courage, strength, and resiliency.
Almost all survivors of sex trafficking have criminal records and these criminal records make it extremely difficult to rebuild their lives, and can increase their vulnerability to be trafficked again. One sad but common reality for many trafficked women is that they grow old very quickly. Many suffer from terminal illnesses at young ages. Many are 40 years old and are literally dying.
The task force met with a national survivor round table. This was an extremely powerful experience. Formal consultation gave survivors of sex trafficking a dignified opportunity to share their stories and to be respected for their expertise on this issue. They had many messages for the task force and for all Canadians, but here are just a few examples.
Many survivors shared their experience of having to meet a daily quota set by their trafficker, or suffer extreme violence. They were forced to hand over all of their money to their trafficker.
Another survivor described her experience as repeated incidents of paid rape.
They also told us that they wished people knew what really goes on behind closed doors. They said that the men who purchase sex routinely force them into humiliating, degrading, and extremely abusive acts. They told us about services they need to begin and to sustain the long-term journey to rebuild their lives. They desperately need help but currently do not have it. As one survivor said, “When you exit, you stand alone”.
One survivor was very blunt: “When you have guys in videos telling boys at school to have six bitches working for them, this is a system that needs to change.” Survivors want men and boys to receive services that teach them how to respect women so they do not become exploiters. The long-term wish of the survivors we met is for a society where women and girls are valued, honoured, and respected.
In conclusion, over the last three years, our work to end sex trafficking has been extremely challenging, but it has brought many gifts. One of the greatest gifts has been the opportunity to learn from 160 women who have shared their experience with us. Time and again, despite the odds, despite the fact that the system which we created actually worked against them, they have found the strength and courage to rebuild their lives. In fact, they are giving back by sharing their experiences with us, in hopes that together we can find solutions. It is vital that we hear and honour their voices.
I would like to conclude with the words of a survivor of sex trafficking: “Just try hard not to give up on us like everybody else in the world has”.
Megwetch. Thank you.