Good morning. I would like to thank the standing committee members for this opportunity to speak about the tabled legislation, Bill C-36. This bill will impact the lives of prostituted individuals, their children, and generations to come.
I'm speaking today on behalf of the board of directors of u-r home, and as a retired police officer with the RCMP. u-r home is a faith-based, grassroots organization registered in Ontario as a not-for-profit.
u-r home was established in response to a community need for safe and secure housing for individuals choosing to exit their exploited situation. This need was identified by police officers, community agencies, front-line case workers, survivors of sexual exploitation, and prostituted individuals as a critical component in supporting their desire to exit their exploited situation.
u-r home's objective is to establish safe and secure housing and support services for victims of human trafficking, including forced sexual exploitation, forced labour, and forced marriage. We will build mentoring and supportive relationships with trafficked and prostituted women in their restorative journey as they seek to understand their inherent worth and dignity as valued persons in our society. We believe in the inherent right of every person in Canada to live with dignity, equality, respect, and freedom from oppression. We do not subscribe to the belief that prostitution is an acceptable solution for the women, children, and men who are forced into prostitution due to racism, poverty, lack of opportunities, child abuse, or inequality.
We view prostitution as a form of sexual exploitation and work towards its abolishment. In a majority of occurrences, prostitution and human trafficking intersect, resulting in forced sexual exploitation. Project Safekeeping, an RCMP report, states the majority of pimps employ control tactics that would categorize them as human traffickers according to the Criminal Code.
Prostitution is not a victimless crime. It consumes the most vulnerable and marginalized persons in our society. We recognize that women, especially first nations women and youth, are overrepresented in prostitution. We believe that those who are prostituted are treated by the buyers and pimps as commodities with little value, and that the cycle of violence is inherent in prostitution.
u-r home applauds the government for its thoughtful work in the development of Bill C-36 in support of prostituted individuals. The government is taking a proactive approach in not criminalizing the prostituted, who are victims of violence at the hands of the buyers and pimps. Yet it stops short of total decriminalization of prostituted individuals. I know of no other offence in our Criminal Code that criminalizes the victim. I would encourage each of you as committee members, as you study Bill C-36, to amend and remove the provision that criminalizes those prostituted victims.
Regarding the purchasing of sexual services, this new offence would prohibit the purchase or attempted purchase of sexual services. In an article by UN Women on ending violence against women and girls, it encouraged drafters of sex trafficking laws to include criminal penalties for buyers to address the demand for the sale of women and girls for sex, and that penalties should be sufficiently severe to deter repeat offences. We believe that the same can be said in the drafting of our new prostitution laws.
Prostitution is built on the economic laws of supply and demand. If there is no demand from men for sexual services, prostitution would not flourish. In the study of Canadian adult sex buyers, it describes that buyers actively attempt to hide their sex buying from others, and experience some degree of anxiety or worry at the thought of being outed as sex buyers. The report further indicated that the buyers of sex had worried about being arrested for communicating in a public place for the purchase of sex.
Police and front-line agencies are seeing a trend of younger girls being forced into prostitution. Why? The buyers are demanding young girls. They want sex with a young virgin, so the pimps are supplying the demand by recruiting vulnerable young girls, often from group homes. We support the strong message that in Canada it will not be acceptable to purchase the body of another human being for one's own personal sexual gratification. If this legislation is passed, the buyers' conduct and the purchasing of sexual services would be illegal for the first time in Canada.
Profit, greed, and power are the driving forces for pimps, traffickers, organized crime groups, gangs, and businesses engaged in such criminal activities as forcing women, youth, and men into prostitution. Research shows that daily profits from one prostituted woman can be over $1,000 a day, earning as much as $280,000 a year, tax-free. A drug trafficker sells one kilogram of cocaine once, but a pimp sells a prostituted woman for an average of seven years, earning potentially millions of dollars in profit.
Addressing the purchase of sexual services is only one avenue to deter the exploitation of individuals. Seizing, restraining, and forfeiting the proceeds of crime—of everyone benefiting—is another effective tool that police officers can apply that will reduce sexual exploitation of vulnerable individuals. Forfeiting the assets and illicit wealth will take the profit from those who benefit.
We believe the advertising of sexual services both online and in print media that depicts women in sexual and degrading poses reinforces the sexual objectification of women. It has been said that women who grow up in a culture with widespread sexual objectification tend to view themselves as objects of desire for others. This internalized sexual objectification has been linked to problems with mental health, clinical depression, habitual body monitoring, eating disorders, body shame, self worth, life satisfaction, cognitive and motor functioning, and sexual dysfunction. Hatton, in a 2011 study, found that “Sexualized portrayals of women have been found to legitimize or exacerbate violence against women and girls, as well as sexual harassment and anti-women attitudes among men and boys”.
With regard to offences in relation to offering, providing, or obtaining sexual services for consideration, the government has outlined a legal framework in this legislation that encompasses its view of those who are prostituted as victims, vulnerable, and in need of support and care. We believe it is inconsistent of the government to establish new legislation whereby prostituted individuals are regarded as victims in certain situations but not in other instances.
We do not support the offences as described in the proposed changes to section 213. These offences will criminalize the most vulnerable marginalized individuals in our society—those who engage in street prostitution, the majority of whom are women. These women, who are poor, often homeless, addicted, and suffer from serious health issues and post-traumatic stress disorder, need care and support, not revictimization. We do not believe the risk of violence that is inherent in prostitution would be diminished, but this offence would force those involved in street prostitution to make choices that could risk their personal safety.
Research and disclosure by prostituted women support the findings that they experience violence in many forms from both buyers of sexual services and individuals who exploit them for profit, and not from the law. Police in Christchurch, New Zealand, have stated, “At least monthly we are dealing with a working girl being victimised in some way, if not more.” The law needs to focus the responsibility of the inherent violence in prostitution and victimization of vulnerable individuals where it belongs, the buyers of sexual services and pimps.
The continuation of the criminalization of vulnerable individuals will only create additional barriers to exiting prostitution—namely, criminal convictions. This type of barrier has already created loss of opportunities for jobs and completion of college programs where, for many young women, the co-op programs require a clear vulnerable screening check by police. We believe those who are prostituted are not choosing prostitution. There is no criminal intent.
I understand that the $20 million is not part of Bill C-36, but I would like to address some comments in relation to this proposed funding.
We recognize the importance of a public awareness campaign and training for police on the application of the new laws, but these initiatives should receive separate funding. The training for police is critical to ensure the consistent application of the new laws across the country, unlike the current situation. Currently, some police services view prostituted individuals as victims and in need of rescuing from their pimps and buyers, and work in this manner. Other police services criminalize those who are prostituted, thus creating inequality in the application of the law.
We support the $20 million in new funding. As many others have suggested, however, we strongly urge the government to dedicate sustainable long-term funding to the development of robust exit strategies and programs.
Survivors of prostitution have stated and shown that it is a difficult process for individuals to leave prostitution. Many of the social barriers that have been factors for entering prostitution such as poverty, housing, health, lack of opportunities, abuse, addictions, and survival can also be barriers for exiting. We know that legal prostitution for many is not a one-time event but individuals may exit and re-enter a number of times before they are successful in overcoming the barriers that keep them entrenched in prostitution.
It is essential that survivors of prostitution and prostituted individuals be included in the development of these exit strategies and programs. Many survivors have commented on the importance of developing relationships with a few trusted workers. Therefore, it is imperative that there is a continuity of resourcing and funding for staff retention in organizations that provide support and services to sexually exploited individuals.
Whether or not you amend Bill C-36 as suggested, as an organization we would support the bill as tabled. We would continue to advocate for the total decriminalization of all prostituted persons.
I would like to conclude with the words of my friend Beatrice Wallace Littlechief, who speaks of being prostituted as a child and exiting prostitution many years later as a forever changed woman:
At 14 years old, I was forced to sell my body to a middle aged white man who said as I wept, that he would take it easy and then proceeded to have sex with me. I was also in fear of my life if I didn't follow through. I was alone and scared and only wished that there was someone there to help me. He thought this was ok to do this to me, but somehow mainstream society thought I was the one in the wrong.As the streets hardened me and death evaded me, I think back to those early days and compare them to today with Bill C-36 coming to reality, and I am filled with joy and hope that this is going to save so many girls, especially First Nation girls like myself, from ever having to experience sexual slavery. We are vulnerable and left to fend for ourselves with pimps and evil just lurking and ready to grab us and eat us alive. There will be protection and exit strategies in place to help save these girls and woman who are trapped.For those that think prostitution is a chosen profession you are only fooling yourself, because what if your 14 year old came to you and said, I got a job as a prostitute, you would definitely not be jumping up for joy.I personally want to thank the government for finally stepping up and seeing myself and others in this plight as humans, as equals that deserve protection. I have been out for a long time but the scars are still there and always will be, but now there is finally hope.