Monday, March 15, 2010

Sexual Exploitation Week of Awareness

Today, I was the MC of the Proclamation Event for the Sexual Exploitation Week of Awareness. If you are interested in learning more, dial 311.

Here is the speech I delivered:

Good afternoon and thank you for joining us today. My name is Sue Huff. I am a trustee and current Vice Chair for the Edmonton Public School Board and I will be acting as your MC for this event.


I also want to welcome a number of dignitaries who are with us today:

Councillor Linda Sloan

Police Chief Mike Boyd

Danielle Boudreau

For the past year, it has been my distinct pleasure to sit on the Sexual Exploitation Working Group. This volunteer group is led by the City of Edmonton and REACH Edmonton. REACH Edmonton connects Edmontonians with tips, tools and resources for building a safe and caring community. The positive momentum and proactive, community-minded focus of REACH Edmonton has been instrumental in our work over the past year.

The Sexual Exploitation Working Group has representatives from government, health, education, law enforcement, business, social services, as well as volunteer and community organizations. Our shared aim is to create awareness about sexual exploitation, the conditions that cause it and to mobilize all Edmontonians to take an active role in preventing it. We believe no one deserves a life of sexual exploitation and that we all have a role to play in protecting children, youth, women and men from the devastating consequences of sexual exploitation.

Sexual exploitation is not about sex, it is about power over vulnerable people. It can take many forms: prostitution, child pornography, internet luring, human trafficking, or trading sex for lodging, food, drugs or protection. It is an ugly fact that, in all forms, sexual exploitation happens here in Edmonton. Facing that reality is the first step to changing it.

Luckily we have a city council and Mayor who are willing to tackle difficult issues head-on. Councillor Amarjeet Sohi has been a strong supporter of the Working Group and we have greatly appreciated the energy and commitment of his dynamic EA, Kristin. Unfortunately, Councillor Sohi is unable to join us today due to another commitment, however, we are very lucky to have, in his place, Councillor Linda Sloan to bring greetings on behalf of the city. Please help me welcome Councillor Sloan to the podium.


LINDA SPEAKS

Thank you, Councillor Sloan. We certainly appreciate the support of the city.

There is no doubt that we all suffer when sexual exploitation thrives in our communities. The social cost, measured in damage to community cohesion and safety, is obvious. We also pay through increased costs in both the health and criminal justice system. You may wonder how widespread the problem is. The statistics are troubling:
The police estimate there are in Edmonton 600 children, youth and adults in visible sexual exploitation- no one knows how many are being secretly exploited through the internet, chat lines, illegal massage parlours and other venues. The average age of entering a life of sexual exploitation on the street is 15 years old. In the past 27 years, there have been 31 verified murders of sexually exploited women in the Edmonton area and 5 listed as officially missing. Only five of these 31 murders have been solved. And, in the last decade, over 980 children in the province of Alberta have needed help through the Protection of Sexually Exploited Children Act (or PSECA).

We are lucky to have Edmonton Police Chief Mike Boyd with us today, to bring the law enforcement perspective to this issue. Please welcome Chief Mike Boyd.

MIKE SPEAKS

Thank you, Chief Boyd. The cooperation between the Edmonton Police Force and the community is critical to addressing this issue.
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As you listen to the grim facts about sexual exploitation, you may feel a little overwhelmed. The challenge seems so big, how can one person make a difference? This Week is not only about creating awareness is also about empowering you to act, to reach out, to know who to call when something doesn’t look right and to care enough to get involved. In short, we want you to DARE 2 CARE. Through the events planned and the resources we’ve compiled- we want you to join us in taking proactive steps to reduce the number of future victims of sexual exploitation. We Dare You to Act. We Dare you to speak out. We Dare you to Care.

Our next speaker is a woman who has definitely dared to care and dared to act. She has brought focus and attention to one of the most devastating costs of sexual exploitation. I am pleased to introduce Danielle Boudreau, the founder of the March for Missing and Murdered Women in Edmonton. Please welcome Danielle to the podium.


DANIELLE SPEAKS


Thank you, Danielle. (Danielle’s speech was very poignant. She spoke on behalf of all the nameless, faceless women. She spoke from the heart and demonstrated incredible courage.)

I would like to encourage everyone to find a way to get involved. You might choose to raise the issue of sexual exploitation with your friends, family and co-workers. On Tuesday, MLA Kevin Taft will deliver a message of awareness in the Legislature. A number of us will be in the Gallery during Question Period, wearing orange- the colour of this week- and you are welcome to join us to show your support. If you are a parent, you may want to take in the free presentation by Craig Krieger (Kreeger) from Alberta Justice about keeping children safe from online sexual predators. That presentation will take place right here at the Stanley Milner Library on Wed. March 17th at 7 p.m. This week, high school students at Ross Sheppard High school will be given the unique opportunity to hear from a woman who worked as an escort. Her first-hand account of life as a sexually exploited person is in stark contrast to Hollywood’s “Pretty Woman” version. As well, there a number of closed door events for elected officials and community leaders to ensure that our decision-makers are well-versed on this issue. On Friday, we conclude the week at City Hall with the Mayor and other dignitaries, where we will announce the winners of the Dare 2 Care Youth Challenge. We encourage you to wish to visit our Facebook page and connect with other people who taking a stand against sexual exploitation.

We have a lot of things planned, but in truth, we hope the week is just the beginning for your involvement on this critical issue. It was at last year’s Proclamation that I decided to join the Sexual Exploitation Working Group & I have never regretted it. I know, whatever level of involvement you choose, you won’t regret it either.

I would encourage you to visit our information tables in the lobby, which supply a wealth of information. Being aware of the services available may help you to reach out with confidence. In particular, I highly recommend the Community Resources Pamphlet put out by REACH Edmonton. This lists all the phone numbers for the agencies and support services that can protect and assist those who are being sexually exploited.

Before I wrap things up, there are a number of people we need to thank:

- our sponsors: the City of Edmonton, Sonic …. and Global Television

-the staff here at Stanley Milner Library for providing this venue and for their ongoing support of the community

-Andrew Fiebiger, who has graciously donated his time for the entire week to photograph all the events. Andrew also donated the graphic design for the certificates we are giving to our speakers and key supporters.

- and thank you to all the members of the Sexual Exploitation Working Group. It has been a privilege to work with such a committed, cooperative and supportive group.

Thank you also to Councillor Sloan, Chief Boyd, Danielle Boudreau, the media …..and everyone in the audience for attending today. Together we can make a difference when we take that first step---- when we DARE 2 CARE.

Thank you and good afternoon.