1,200 people attended the first ever virtual Canadian Sexual Exploitation Summit: Disrupt Demand on May 6,7, 2021. The event was hosted by Defend Dignity along with 7 sponsors including the Manitoba government’s Tracia’s Trust Sexual Exploitation Strategy. The purpose of the Summit was to bring awareness to the rarely acknowledged demand side of sexual exploitation. Without demand there would be no need for a supply of victims of sexual exploitation. A movement is building across Canada to ensure that a focus on disrupting demand is part of our laws, and part of community initiatives that address sexual exploitation.
Originally planned for an in-person event in Winnipeg, MB, the Summit moved to an online platform last year. Over 50 speakers from Canada, the US and Europe, covered topics like Why We Must Address Demand to End Trafficking, Strategies to Prevent Youth Exploitation in the Sex Industry, and Growing up in a Porn Culture: Harms and Solutions. Two live panels brought lively interaction from attendees as policing, addressing the harms of sex buying, and survivors’ voices were highlighted. Trisha Baptie, survivor representative on the inaugural International Survivors of Trafficking Advisory Council (ISTAC) under OSCE Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights (ODIHR), opened the Summit with a challenge for each of us to do our part in in disrupting the demand. Brian McConaghy of Ratanak International closed off the Summit by encouraging us to keep going in spite of the challenges.
Manitoba Minister of Families, Rochelle Squires, and Ontario Associate Minister of Children and Women’s Issues, Jill Dunlop, provided opening remarks. Senator Julie Miville-Dechêne – who currently has a bill in the Senate that addresses age verification for porn sites – also provided greetings. MP Arnold Viersen, co-chair of the All-Party Parliamentary Group to End Human Trafficking and Modern-Day Slavery, brought greetings and also participated in the Summit. Elder Mae Louise Campbell and her daughter Jamie Goulet of the Clan Mothers Healing Village outside Winnipeg stressed the importance of addressing demand in the fight to end sexual exploitation in Canada.
There were 90 survivors of sexual exploitation registered for the Summit and many attended a pre-Summit online virtual celebration which included a virtual real-time visit to the Canadian Museum for Human Rights in Winnipeg, MB. Observing two minutes of silence to recognize those lost to the sex industry’s violence was a poignant reminder of the realities of prostitution.
The Summit was timely considering the recent court challenge of Canada’s prostitution legislation now in the Ontario Superior Court. Attendees, survivors, and organizations are uniting to raise awareness of the need to keep this legislation in place to protect women and children and communities from sexual exploitation.