It's unfortunate you can't see me, because I look exceptionally gorgeous today.
I'd like to start by acknowledging the Treaty 7 nations on whose land I'm speaking to you from.
Thank you, Mr. Chair and honourable members of the committee, for this opportunity to contribute to your review of Bill C-36, the protection of communities and exploited persons act.
My name is Marina Giacomin, and I am the executive director of Servants Anonymous Society Calgary. I have been a social worker for over 25 years, with a primary focus on issues related to women and children, including violence, poverty, and homelessness.
I am also a survivor of sexual violence and exploitation, which I experienced beginning at a very young age and until my early twenties, including a year when I was 16 years old and frequented the Downtown Eastside of Vancouver, British Columbia. I have been free from that experience for 25 years now.
I would like to both personally and on behalf of SAS, Servants Anonymous Society Calgary—and, most importantly, the hundreds of women and girls we have served—thank the Canadian government for Bill C-36 and your recognition of the evidence of prostitution as inherently violent and primarily an issue of violence against women. We support the abolishment of prostitution in Canada and urge you to support this bill.
I will offer you the exit perspective today, and start by describing for you SAS Calgary and our experience and expertise.
Servants Anonymous Society Calgary has operated for the past 25 years providing a voluntary, comprehensive service for girls and women age 16 and older, with or without children, who are seeking an exit from prostitution; sexual exploitation, including other sex industry experiences; and healing from the related violence and trauma.
We have service data on over 700 girls and women: 100% have experienced violence; approximately 40% identify as aboriginal; and 75% are 24 years and older, with 90% of them, however, having been introduced into the sex trade as teenagers, predominantly around the age of 14.
We believe we are the most comprehensive service for this population in Canada, and have provided care to women and children from across the country. We work closely with both local law enforcement, including Calgary Police Service's vice and organized crime unit, and for the past many years have provided the mandatory training regarding sensitivity and compassionate law enforcement approaches to prostituted people for all new recruits of the Calgary Police Service. We also work in collaboration with our provincial and federal correctional facilities, with the RCMP, and on occasion with Canada Border Services.
Servants Anonymous Society Calgary provides a SAFE house program, which allows for an immediate exit from prostitution for girls and women. The SAFE program is professionally staffed 24/7; provides access to medical care, detoxification, and addiction services if required; and trauma recovery work also begins here.
The SAFE program is a 30- to 45-day stabilization program. A recent review of our outcome statistics for over 100 women accessing SAFE shows that women staying in the SAFE program for one week experience a 40% increase in successfully exiting to safe and stable environments. Women staying in SAFE for a minimum of two weeks experience a 50% increase in their success, and women remaining a minimum of four weeks in SAFE experience a 90% success rate in exiting to safe and stable environments.
Following SAFE, the SAS program offers transitional supportive housing in five houses located throughout the city, where women live communally with a live-in volunteer or supportive roommate. We offer permanent independent supportive housing. We own a number of fully self-contained apartments with a live-in volunteer unit on site to ensure safety and to provide any additional support the girls and women may require. In addition, we offer permanent affordable housing in the community through a formal partnership with our local housing authority.
Along with housing, women participate in an extensive daily life skills classroom. Our entire curriculum has been written by alumni and women with lived experience of prostitution and sexual exploitation. All of the women are assigned a key worker or a counsellor who is a professional social worker or addictions counsellor for personal case management and support. We employ a number of alumni who have gone on to complete their education in the social services. We offer an on-site professional child-minding service and a child development, parenting skills, attachment bonding therapy, and in-home support program for women with children.
SAS has a very high rate of children being returned from child welfare or child protective services to their mothers who are in our program, and a very high rate of pregnant women being allowed to keep their children upon delivery. Indeed, the catalyst for many of the women we have met who choose to exit prostitution have come to us because of either an episode of extreme violence, where they directly feared for their life, or the discovery that they were pregnant.
The final phase of the Servants Anonymous Society Calgary program is a six-month employment education support service. We offer follow-care support and outreach for any of our past participants to help them access continuing services in the community or return to SAS if required. We also help them develop résumé, job search, and interview skills; we offer through our social enterprise, on-site and in-community paid work experience programs, and scholarships for continuing education. In fact, a number of our alumnae have gone on to university or other post-secondary education to advance their education and improve their long-term employability. Women who complete the entire SAS program experience an 88% success rate in remaining free of prostitution, sexual exploitation, and are in safe, stable housing for a minimum of two years afterwards.
An independent social return on investment evaluation of our services was commissioned by the Government of Alberta, Ministry of Justice and Solicitor General. It was conducted from 2009 to 2012 and showed that our services result in a social return on investment of $8.57 for every $1.00 spent by government. These are reflected as savings to the taxpayer in the decreased costs of homelessness; law enforcement responses; inappropriate use of ambulance, emergency medical services, and hospital stays; incarceration; child welfare interventions; and homicide investigations. Clearly, comprehensive services supporting women to exit prostitution are of great benefit, both to the women and to the community.
SAS Calgary applauds the Government of Canada for recognizing the need for such services and for including financial provisions to support survivors of prostitution to exit and create safer lives. We support Bill C-36 and the focus on the criminalization and fining of pimps, traffickers, and purchasers or “johns”. We have, all too often, seen the long-term effects of violence and trauma associated with the sex trade, and this legislation is a first and necessary step in deterring those who prey on the vulnerable people in our society. We believe this legislation will require some small adjustments; however, for the first time in Canadian history, women exploited by the sex industry are being viewed with dignity, as people worthy of being given support to exit violent and exploitive situations, rather than as public nuisances.
Since Bill C-36 was unveiled, we have been hearing very loudly from the pro-prostitution lobby. We are told that some women choose prostitution as a viable career option, and while this might be true for an extremely small percentage of people, the media has reported extensively on this angle. It is not our intent to debate that point of view today. What we want to ensure is that the voices of experience from survivors of exploitation and prostitution do not get lost in a pro-prostitution debate.
What is vitally important for this committee and for Canadians to remember is that the majority percentage of women and girls are exploited, are forced or coerced into prostitution, and are trapped by violence and threats. Legalization should not be an option. This is not a job.
Evidence shows that there are large numbers of women and girls who would leave prostitution if they had the means to do so. And we know this because we operate one of the most comprehensive exit programs in the country and sometimes we have to turn women, girls, and children away because we don't have the space. In fact, as of this week, we have a waiting list of 14 women, meaning an average of 1 to 2 months before they can get in. Those days could mean the difference between life and death for someone's daughter, their mother, or their sister.
It is also clearly evidenced in the research that focusing the criminalization on sex purchasers and pimps or traffickers helps vulnerable women to exit, and begins to support the public's understanding of prostitution as an issue of gender inequity and violence against women.
We would like to offer one recommendation for an amendment, particularly subsection 213 (1.1) regarding communication offences in relation to the expectation of the presence of children or persons under the age of 18. While SAS supports the legislation's intention to prevent the spread of social norms that treat women as sexual objects and to keep impressionable children somewhat safe from the social harms resulting from prostitution, we believe that prostitutes themselves must be held immune to this provision, understanding that they themselves are victims. We recommend that the bill be amended here to reflect this.
We would suggest that the rigorous enforcement of Bill C-36 and heavy fines and punishments put in place to target johns who attempt to purchase or procure a prostitute will offer a strong deterrent in such locations and support the objectives of Bill C-36's preamble, without criminalizing prostitutes themselves.
We believe this will fortify the legislation against further legal or human rights challenges. It is not a human right to have sex, or to have access to someone else's body for such, but we do each have the right to safety and protection. We know that this will support more vulnerable people in asking for help from police and in seeking to exit from prostitution.
Our experience, from having helped hundreds of women and girls, is that whether a woman was forced or coerced into prostitution as a young girl, or whether she made a decision based on very limited or unreasonable options, violence and trauma are always present factors. And once in prostitution, many girls and women become trapped. As one woman from our program explains, "The only way out of being pimped is either death or being sick with HIV, because if you are HIV positive the bikers, [as well as gangs, and violent “johns”] will kill you themselves". Violence, is violence, is violence. There is no difference inside or outside.
For those who would objectify women and commodify their bodies, Bill C-36 sets out real deterrents. The additions to the Criminal Code will give law enforcement and prosecutors the tools they need to protect women and combat organized crime. We should all take pride in this made-in-Canada solution.