On July 8, 2014 Diane Redsky, Project Director, Human Trafficking Task Force at the Canadian Women’s Foundation spoke at the Justice and Human Rights Committee on Bill C36 – Protection of Communities and Exploited Persons Act. Below are the speaking notes from her presentation.
For a French translation, please download the PDF here.
Please note that some of the content below may be disturbing for some readrs.
Good Afternoon, thank you for the opportunity to be here.
I would like to begin with acknowledging the Anishinaabe Territory we all have the privilege of being on. I would also like to acknowledge women and girls of sex trafficking and their families, some of them will appear here as Survivor leaders. We honor their voices.
I am 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:
- The Canadian Women’s Foundation is currently the pre-eminent expert on sex trafficking in Canada.
- Women and girls who are survivors of sex trafficking have been silenced, and their perspective must be part of this discussion.
- 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 in Canada.
First, I want to clarify that the Canadian Women’s Foundation expertise is on 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. The Canadian Women’s Foundation is focused on breaking this silence. We are shining a spotlight on the voices and unique needs of trafficked women and girls who are in the sex industry against their will.
We understand this issue is complex and you have a very important job ahead of you.
It is our hope you will learn from our expertise on sex trafficking in Canada to inform your decision on Bill C-36.
WHO WE ARE:
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 woman’s shelter in Canada. More detailed information is included in your package and on our website.
Over the past several years, we received an increase number of grant applications from community organizations working with survivors of sex trafficking. We found this trend very troubling and spent several months meeting with community groups to better understand this growing problem. This important work led us to take a leadership role on sex trafficking which is an extreme form of violence against women and girls in Canada.
OUR WORK ON SEX TRAFFICKING IN CANADA:
In 2012, the Canadian Women’s Foundation formally launched a major initiative to help end sex trafficking, with the goal of developing a National Anti-Trafficking Strategy. We have invested $2-million dollars in this important work.
Our trafficking work focusses on six priority areas and that information is included in your package. Some highlights include:
- Created a National Task Force of 24 experts from across Canada:
- The Task Force included Survivors, front-line community organizations, police, representatives from the legal, justice, policy, research and national organizations including an Indigenous Elder and Co-Chair from the Government of Canada’s Federal National Action Plan to Combat Trafficking in Persons.
- The Task Force traveled to 10 cities across Canada to consult with all levels of government, more than 260 organizations, and 160 Survivors of sex trafficking.
- The Task Force also organized two National Roundtables – one with Service Providers from across Canada and another one with Survivors of sex trafficking.
- The Task Force met for 18 months, and formally concluded its work in June.
- We invested more than $800,000 in grants to fund grassroots community organizations across Canada that work to prevent sex trafficking and help women and girls to escape trafficking and rebuild their lives. Many of the programs we fund work with girls under the age of eighteen.
- Our latest initiative is a public awareness campaign about sex trafficking in Canada, which launched on television and other media yesterday.
This fall, the Canadian Women’s Foundation will be launching the Task Force’s recommendations and Canadian Women’s Foundation anti-trafficking strategy based on the Task Force’s work. The purpose of this strategy will be to implement solutions to help end sex trafficking in Canada.
The strategy is rooted in women’s equality and will focus on five key areas:
- public education and awareness
- service needs
- legislation and law enforcement
- the need for national coordination
We will be happy to share the strategy with you when it is ready.
Meanwhile, here are a 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
- the proliferation of child pornography (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. According to the RCMP Project Safekeeping Report, victims of sex trafficking are Canadian citizens.
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 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 victims. But although these issues are linked, we must never forget that trafficked women and girls have no choice and no voice and they are victims of a crime.
BILL C-36 AS IT RELATES TO SEX TRAFFICKING IN CANADA:
I would now like to share a few comments on Bill C-36 as it relates to sex trafficking in Canada. These comments are based on the expertise developed through the work of our Task Force and from Survivors of sex trafficking themselves.
In our opinion, Bill C-36 does a few key things to help protect trafficked women and girls:
The legislation acknowledges 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 used to hold someone against their will
- Higher sentences for repeated trafficking related crimes
- Designating sex traffickers as “long term offenders”
Modernizing the procuring offence to align better with ‘human trafficking’ offenses.
Increasing protection and prosecution for sexual offenses against children under 16.
However, we also see three ways 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 for services. The $20-million dollar investment is not enough and does not elaborate on the long-term nature of this essential funding for organizations. There is no quick fix for services for trafficked women and girls and we need to view this issue with long-term in mind.
- 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-36. For example, it is not clear how the complexities of women and girls who are trafficked will be protected when forced to be on the streets or advertised on-line. How can we make sure victims of sex trafficking are not criminalized?
- We would 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 child and we recommend increasing minimum sentencing for obtaining sexual services from a person under 18.
SURVIVORS VOICES OF SEX TRAFFICKING:
Trafficked girls and women have been silenced by their exploiters. 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 are recruited around the age of thirteen, often through a betrayal of trust or the promise of a better life. One former trafficker bragged about how easy it was to lure, recruit, intimidate, and control young girls into forced prostitution. They trick them, invite them to a party, or offer a false promise like a job. 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. They experience coercion, intimidation, confinement, isolation, threats, violence, and rape. Their traffickers force them into debt-bondage, coerce them into drug addiction or committing crimes, steal their passports, and move them from city to city. 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, but without success. One woman said: “I tried ten times to exit, but didn’t get out until I was 29 years old.” Another told us: “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, 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. They told me how beautiful I was and they manipulated me. They are so good at it…”
- In their mid-20s, many survivors are discarded by their Trafficker because they are considered too old because the demand is higher for younger girls. At this point, one of three things typically happens:
- They enter the survival sex industry, exchanging sex acts for basic economic survival. One woman said: “I hit bottom. I was 75 pounds and suffering a total body breakdown and a severe drug addiction.”
- They become a statistic – part of the horrible legacy of missing and murdered women and girls. One woman told us: “I thought I was going to die out there.”
- They begin the long hard road to recovery and rebuilding lives which many women do achieve with great courage, strength and resiliency. One woman described how she found a supportive community of women who “selflessly loved me back to health.”
- Almost all Survivors of sex trafficking have criminal records and it is these criminal records that make it extremely difficult to rebuild their lives and can increase the 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.
As I mentioned, the Task Force met with a National Survivors Roundtable. This was an extremely powerful experience. This 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 their money to their trafficker. Another Survivor described her experience as repeated incidents of “paid rape”.
- They told us they wished people really knew what goes on behind closed doors. It is not like in the movie “Pretty Woman”. They said many men who purchase sex routinely force them into humiliating, degrading and extremely abusive sex acts. One Survivor shared “I was raped by many johns. The more they saw my vulnerability, the more they raped me and were more violent”.
- They told us about the 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.” Another said, “There needs to be somewhere you can go that is Survivor-run. For a few weeks I was ready to leave but I couldn’t get away for even a few hours. I didn’t know there was anything in place to help me. Advertising it in a the right place would help – emergency rooms, detoxes and the police” In our view, the promise of a $20-million dollar investment from the federal government does not even begin to address the need for community services, nor does it recognize the long-term nature of this funding. When it comes to helping trafficked women and girls, there is no quick fix.
- One survivor was very blunt: “When you have guys in videos telling boys it’s cool 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 all the survivors we met is for a society where women and girls are valued, honored and respected.
Over the last three years, our work on sex trafficking has been extremely challenging but it has also brought many gifts.
One of the greatest gifts has been the opportunity to learn from the 160 women who shared their experiences with us. Time and again—despite the odds, despite the fact that the systems we have created actually work against them—they have found the strength and courage to rebuild their lives. In fact, they are giving back by sharing their experience with us in the 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 everyone else in the world has.”
Meegwetch, thank you, merci.