Good afternoon, members of the Standing Committee on the Status of Women. Thank you for this invitation and this opportunity.
I will begin my comments with three recent news stories from Edmonton.
The first is from April 26. A man accused of trafficking two 15-year-old girls faces 34 charges, including trafficking, procuring, advertising, material benefit, possession and distribution of child pornography, sexual assault and other charges. Police believe there are two other girls he was attempting to lure into the sex trade.
The next article is from April 5: “Man gets 6-year sentence for sex trafficking 2 Edmonton teenage girls”. The article stated that the judge said he “considered the vulnerability of the 16 and 17-year-old girls—both of whom came from poor families”. The trafficker “psychologically coerced, verbally abused and intimidated” the girls. Listening to one of the victims, the judge stated: “She was worried he would come after her family if she didn't keep working for him.” The article said, “The girl was also offered cocaine, which she began taking before every instance of being trafficked....For five months, the girl met with a 'steady stream' of men. She said she was required to engage in many sexual acts that she didn't want to”.
The next article, from February 23, is about a man charged with human trafficking of vulnerable Edmontonians. The staff sergeant of our ALERT law enforcement, human trafficking, counter-exploitation unit stated that the trafficker would “lure these women to hotels by offering drugs, food and a place to stay, then exploit them and force them into the sex trade, even taking them [throughout] the province”. Police suspect there could be up to 20 other young women exploited. The charges included trafficking, procuring, advertising material benefit and sexual assault. All three traffickers are young men—21, 22 and 37—and a fourth person charged is a 19-year-old young woman. She goes to court in May.
This has to stop on all angles. I have to ask, what is the missing piece in these three news stories? Who is invisible? I suggest that the invisible are those men who search the Internet or city streets seeking to pay for access to the bodies of girls, women and gender-diverse persons. Their actions create the market for those who turn to trafficking, be they individuals or organized crime. Sex trafficking is a business where traffickers make money because there are consumers demanding the product they sell.
The human trafficking detectives tell me there used to be 2,000 ads per day on LeoList in Edmonton. Now there are 5,000 ads. They are becoming more explicit in the photos and the descriptions of sexual acts.
I spent Saturday with men arrested in police operations for attempting to purchase sexual services. It’s called the sex trade offender program. The men learn about Canada’s laws, the dynamics of the sex economy and sex trafficking. They hear from a man who is a former sex buyer. The last session is spent listening to two women who suffered sexual exploitation and a mother whose daughter is one of the murdered women of Edmonton, whose murder has not yet been solved after 25 years.
On Thursday I met with an indigenous woman who suffered exploitation. She said part of her educational mission now is to focus on men’s mental wellness so that they no longer participate in sexual exploitation of girls, women and gender-diverse persons. She had just come from educating staff at Enbridge, which does a lot of the pipelines in our Alberta communities.
I suggest that one of the biggest steps we could take in preventing sex trafficking would be to increase law enforcement stings and offer sex buyer accountability programs that educate and build empathy so that men no longer participate. Plus, we could then channel the money that they pay to come to these programs into healing and transitional programs.
In Alberta we are soon to launch our office to combat trafficking in persons, which was inspired by listening to survivors who presented to the Alberta task force. Youth-serving agencies have created the southern Alberta coordinated community response model to work with sexually exploited youth. There are two young women, called safety network coordinators, who work with the ALERT detectives. One position is funded by Public Safety and another by ALERT. In April, law enforcement officers from Canada came together to share expertise and challenges. This was called the Maddison session, named after a young woman who died as a consequence of sex trafficking.
These initiatives and others that we're working on in Alberta are guided by listening to the experiences of those who survive and who say, “We want to be part of creating the future.”