Debates of the Senate (Hansard)
1st Session, 41st Parliament,
Volume 148, Issue 43
Thursday, December 15, 2011
The Honourable Noël A. Kinsella, Speaker
Study on Issue of Sexual Exploitation of Children
Third Report of Human Rights Committee and Request for Government Response—Debate Adjourned
The Senate proceeded to consideration of the third report of the Standing Senate Committee on Human Rights entitled, The Sexual Exploitation of Children in Canada: the Need for National Action, tabled in the Senate on November 23, 2011.
Hon. Mobina S. B. Jaffer: Honourable senators, 61 per cent of all sexual assault victims are children; 86 per cent of sexual assaults are perpetrated by individuals known to the victim. Every year, there are 9,000 reported sexual assaults against children in Canada. Over 80 per cent of these child victims are girls.
Considering that the overwhelming majority of sexual abuse goes unreported, this is exceptionally troubling. The sexual exploitation of children is an issue that demands our attention, as it is deeply rooted in our homes, in our families and in our communities. It is an issue that is not at the margins of our society, but rather at the very centre. It is happening to the children we know, by the men and women we know.
I would like to share a personal experience with you. Every few months, I walk on the streets of Vancouver at night to see what is happening in my city. Sometimes I walk with people who are doing the homeless count, and sometimes on a very cold night to convince people to seek refuge in a shelter.
One day I met Christina. She was wearing a very thin, pretty dress on a cold night. She was freezing. I gave her some hot coffee and while drinking coffee, we sat and had a chat. I asked her how old she was. At first, she told me she was 16, but later on admitted she was 12.
She was dressed beautifully with a lot of makeup, very expensive high heel shoes and an expensive purse. She told me she had run away from her reserve not only to escape the violence that she was being subjected to, but also because she felt that there were no opportunities for her there. She explained to me that she was rescued by a very kind gentleman who bought her the beautiful things she had. She had never owned such beautiful things in her life. She was very proud of her new status.
She said she was very happy until this very kind gentleman lost all his money. He asked her to work on the streets for a short time to help him out financially. At first, she resisted and she noticed he was turning his attention to other girls and was becoming mean to her. He told her that if she loved him, she would do what would help him out by working on the streets.
While narrating this story, a car stopped with three men in it and she ran toward that car. She entered the car and it sped away. I never completed my conversation with Christina. Every time I walk or pass that neighbourhood, I look for her. Her very innocent face haunts me.
When we started this study, I knew this was to reach out, to find ways to support young Christinas all over Canada.
Honourable senators, in June 2009, the Standing Senate Committee on Human Rights began its study of the sexual exploitation of children in Canada. This study followed the committee’s 2007 report entitled, Children: The Silenced Citizens: Effective Implementation of Canada’s International Obligations with Respect to the Rights of Children, which had also drawn everyone’s attention to the commercial sexual exploitation of children.
After hearing from more than 40 witnesses who generously agreed to share their knowledge and experience in this matter, on Wednesday, November 23, the Standing Senate Committee on Human Rights had the honour to table its third report entitled, The Sexual Exploitation of Children in Canada: the Need for National Action. In this report, the committee addresses the sexual exploitation of children in Canada in an attempt not only to understand the scope and prevalence of this scourge, but also to suggest possible ways of combatting it.
In addition, the report contains eight recommendations on how the federal government can establish reliable policies, programs and services to help children avoid sexual exploitation, break free from it and heal the wounds caused by sexual abuse.
Our report includes eight recommendations, many of which I will touch upon today. These recommendations can be summarized as follows.
Recommendation 1: Our committee recommends that the government ensures that a gender-based analysis is incorporated in research, as well as in the development and implementation of government-based programs and policies.
Recommendation 2: Our committee recommends that support be provided to Aboriginal communities.
Recommendation 3: Our committee recommends that the government create a national database of research and statistical information on the sexual exploitation of children in Canada.
Recommendation 4: Our committee once again recommends that the government introduce legislation to establish an independent children’s commissioner.
Recommendation 5: Our committee recommends that the government improve the justice system so that it better recognizes and accommodates the needs of the child victims of sexual exploitation before and after court proceedings.
Recommendation 6: Our committee recommends that the government make it one of its top priorities to ensure that an adequate and consistent level of services for all children dealing with sexual exploitation is available across the country.
Recommendation 7: Our committee recommends that the government actively work with businesses and private sector organizations to support and promote initiatives directed towards combating the sexual exploitation of children.
Recommendation 8: Our committee recommends that the government dedicate appropriate resources and funding to promoting a preventive approach to the sexual exploitation of children.
Throughout our committee’s study, we examined a broad range of issues that fall under the umbrella of sexual exploitation. These issues included domestic sexual abuse, sex tourism, child pornography, children exploited toward prostitution and the luring of children over the Internet. After studying all these issues, our committee learned that all of these forms of sexual exploitation had one thing in common: They all included the violation of a child’s inherent human dignity for the sexual gratification of adults.
Honourable senators, a matter that immediately grasped the attention of our committee was the prevalence of sexual exploitation among Aboriginal children. Although Aboriginal people make up only 5 per cent of our population, Aboriginal youth account for at least half of the young people who are sexually exploited. In addition, according to the Native Women’s Association of Canada, 90 per cent of street-involved sexually exploited youth in some Canadian cities are of Aboriginal ancestry.
A number of factors contribute to the exceedingly vulnerable position that Aboriginal children are consistently placed in. For example, Aboriginal communities experience lower levels of education, higher levels of poverty, overcrowded and poor housing, and lack of access to basic social support services. With this in mind, our committee recommended that the Government of Canada conduct and support research into the particular needs of Aboriginal communities with respect to sexual exploitation of children.
The committee also recommends that the government develop policies that are culturally sensitive to the needs of Aboriginal peoples and designed to reduce the incidence and harms of sexual exploitation in Aboriginal communities on and off reserve.
Honourable senators, our committee heard from a number of witnesses who have been working very hard to reduce the prevalence of this scourge in Canada. Many expressed frustration about the fact that so little research is being done on this very serious problem and that we have so little information on the subject. This serious shortage of information not only prevents them from helping abused children, but it also helps maintain the secrecy within which the perpetrators of these crimes can continue abusing children.
That is why our committee concluded that a national strategy is needed in order to create a databank and conduct research to provide reliable data to relevant stakeholders.
Thus, the committee recommends that the Government of Canada undertake to create a national databank of research and statistical information on the sexual exploitation of children in Canada. This databank will be developed with government departments, non-government organizations, women’s groups, Aboriginal people, service organizations and children.
The data and research should be made available to the public so that it can assist law enforcement agencies, social service agencies and other relevant stakeholders in combatting the sexual exploitation of children.
Unfortunately, our committee is well aware of the challenges associated with generating data and research around this very sensitive issue. These challenges stem from the fact that children who have been victims of sexual abuse do not speak out against their perpetrators. Instead, they simply suffer in solitude.
Honourable senators, we must remain mindful that the majority of children who have been sexually exploited have endured this abuse from adults whom they know and trust. Throughout the study, our committee learned that most adult perpetrators are male and are known to the child. They are family members, neighbours, business associates and friends.
After being sexually abused by an adult whom they know and trust, many of these children, as a consequence, experience great difficulty continuing to place their trust in adults, even if it is for the purpose of seeking help. It is imperative that we restore this trust.
Our children need to know that their voices will be heard and their rights respected. These are our Canadian children. That is why our committee recommended, as it did in its 2007 report Children: The Silenced Citizens, that Parliament establish an independent children’s commissioner who would monitor the implementation of the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child and act as an advocate for children across Canada.
Our committee recommends that the commissioner have the capacity to receive individual complaints, to conduct public education campaigns, and to act as a liaison with various levels of government and non-governmental organizations, as well as with the Canadian Council of Provincial Child and Youth Advocates. In addition, our committee also strongly urges that the children’s commissioner has an obligation to listen to and involve children within its mandate to ensure that their voices are heard and their rights are respected.
Honourable senators, while conducting the study, our committee had the opportunity to hear from a witness who bravely shared her personal experience as a sex trade worker. Her testimony continues to echo through my mind, and I would like to share it with all honourable senators today because it provides insight into how serious this problem is. Debbie Cumby, from Ma Mawi Wi Chi Itata Centre in Winnipeg is a brave woman and loving mother. She told our committee:
I consider myself a lucky one. Many times, my life could have been taken from me, but I survived it. Lately, though, this sense of survival is not a reality for our young children and our kids out there. Too many are going missing or have been found murdered. These are our children, and it is our job to protect them and do whatever it takes to ensure their safety.
. . . I became pregnant with my daughter, who is now 12 years old. I just wanted a better life for her. I was terrified of her ever becoming involved in any sort of thing like that. What was a huge eye-opener was when my daughter was a year and a half and one of my regulars asked how much for her. Even though it was a horrible and negative thing, a positive came out of it because it opened my eyes more — that if I did not stop what I was doing, no matter what I did and how much I protected her, she would become involved in that lifestyle in some way.
We all want more for our children than what we had as children ourselves. I get strength from my daughter every day.
Honourable senators, I would like to repeat some Canadian statistics: Sixty-one per cent of all sexual victims are children. Eighty-six per cent of sexual assaults are perpetrated by individuals known to their victim. Every year, there are roughly 9,000 sexual assaults against children in Canada. Over 80 per cent of these child victims are girls. These statistics speak volumes. We need to protect our children. We need to give them a voice, and then we need to listen.
Honourable senators, I would like to move:
That the third report of the Standing Senate Committee on Human Rights, entitled The Sexual Exploitation of Children in Canada: The Need for National Action, tabled in the Senate on Wednesday, November 23, 2011, be adopted and that, pursuant to rule 131(2), the Senate request a complete and detailed response from the government, with the Minister of Justice and Attorney General of Canada being identified as the minister responsible for responding to this report.
(On motion of Senator Carignan, debate adjourned.)