The topic I chose to do my paper on is the sexual abuse of children. I plan to look at the trends of sexual abuse in Canada and the ways in which children could be abused or exploited. I also will give some opinions on the things I think could be changed to help stop the sexual abuse of children.
According to the U.N. Convention sexual abuse or exploitation is the inducement or coercion of a child to engage in any unlawful sexual activity, the exploitative use of children in prostitution or other unlawful sexual practices, and the exploitative use of children in pornographic performances and materials.1 Therefore by ratifying the U.N. Convention Canada has the responsibility to uphold any laws set forth in the convention.
I first would like to talk about the trends of sexual abuse in Canada and some of the ways in which victims can be harmed by being sexually abused. According to a study conducted from July 1980 to April 1984 there were three hundred and fifty-two cases of sexual abuse reported. 301 of these cases were of women and the other 51 cases were men. The age in which there was the most reports of sexual abuse was between three to five years old and the relationship the victim had with the offender was most often that of a family friend.2 By the mid nineties the frequency of childhood sexual abuse ranges widely from one study to another. The range was from six percent to sixty two percent of all adult women and from three to sixteen percent of all adult men who say they were sexually abused as a child.3 A table shown on the next page shows the statistics of sexual abuse against children in 1994 compared to other types of crimes against children:4
Children most at risk of sexual offences
Children were at greater risk of some form of sexual offence in 1994 than either youths or adults.
Table: Types of violent incident by age group of victims
Age group of victims
Under 12 12 to 19 20 and over
Total 100 100 100
Homicide and attempted
murder 0.4 0.5 1
Assault 46 66 73
sexual offences 43 16 4
Robbery 3 12 10
offences(1) 7 5 12
In 1996 police data shows that children under 18 years of age were the victims in 22% of all assaults reported to a sample of police agencies. They represented a much larger proportion of sexual assault victims (60%) than physical assault victims (18%). While the majority of assaults against children were committed by non-family members, family members were accused in 24% of all assaults against children. Very young children are more likely to be assaulted by family members than by non-family members. Almost 70% of victims under the age of three were assaulted by family members. Girls were more frequently the victims of assaults by family members than were boys. Girls represented 56% of the victims of physical assault incidents, and almost 80% of the victims of sexual assault in which a family member was the perpetrator. Fathers made up a large majority (80%) of parents accused of assaulting their children, accounting for 98% of parents accused of sexual assault and 73% of parents accused of physical assault.5 By looking at these numbers it would seem to me that while crime in general is on the decline, the number of sexual abuse cases in Canada against children is on the rise or at least not declining.
Sexual abuse can happen in a number of ways one of which is the inducement
or coercion of a child into any type of sexual activity. This could consist of incest,
sexual interference, invitation, sexual exploitation or procuring. These are the most
reported types of sexual abuse against children.
Another form of sexual abuse against children is child prostitution. Child prostitution consists of soliciting, living of the avails of child prostitution, operating a body house, and providing children to people for the service of prostitution. Child prostitution continues to be a problem in Canada and as recently as this year the province of Alberta implemented a new law to try and stop child prostitution. This law gives the police in Alberta the power to place child prostitutes in custody and detain them in a halfway house for up to seventy-two hours in the hopes that this will help them to gain self confidence and break the ties with the people who got them involved with prostitution. The police also hope to break any ties or relationships that the child may have with a pimp. By putting the child in a halfway house it allows the child at least a chance at leaving prostitution and going home, or if that option is not available, then to a foster or an adoptive home where the child can be properly taken care of.
Also another law that was put into place was the amendment to law on child sex tourism in nineteen ninety-six. This amendment states that if a person goes to another country where child prostitution is legal and has sexual relations with a child, when that person returns to Canada they can be arrested and prosecuted as if they had done it here. This is another way that government is trying to fight child prostitution.
Another way in which sexual abuse against children takes place is by child pornography. In nineteen ninety-two the Supreme Court of Canada ruled that child pornography consisted of erotica, dehumanizing porn, and sexually violent porn, however, there was still no special law to deal with child pornography. In nineteen ninety-three, however, a new legislation came into effect which gave a very broad definition of child pornography. It states that child pornography is any visual representation of explicit sexual material under the age of eighteen including depiction or written material. It also made it clear that production and distribution of child pornography were prohibited. This is again a way in which the government has tried to stop sexual abuse of children.
There are many things that can happen to a person after they have been sexually abused. One problem that can occur after a person has been sexually abused is anorexia. Many female victims of sexual abuse suffer from this disease because they want to be perfect. They feel it is the first time they have ever had any control over there own bodies. Another effect of being sexually abused is feeling really depressed and even suicidal. Attempts at suicide are very common among people who have been sexually abused as a child. They often want to end their lives in order to end all the pain and the memories related to being abused. Another long term effect of sexual abuse as a child is having dissociative disorders. This is a strategy to remove themselves from a situation that they were involved in. They may also have psychological disorders as well as show self-destructive behaviours like self mutilation. This is usually done to make themselves look less attractive so that they will never bee sexually abused again.6 As you can see just because the sexual abuse stops it doesn't mean that the victim of this abuse will become better. The victim always has some type of problem whether it be physical, mental or social for the rest of their lives as a result of being sexually abused as a child.
With Canada's ratification of the U.N. Convention they are supposed to prevent and protect children from sexual abuse of any form. Since the early nineties Canada has implemented new laws in an effort to stop the sexual abuse of children, however, I don't think government has done enough to rid the country of this problem.
An example of how I think that Canada is not doing enough is the Sharpe case in British Columbia earlier this year. Earlier this year Sharpe was charged with the possession of child pornography and eventually he went to trial. In the trial his defence was that it was his constitutional right of freedom of expression to look at the pornography. His lawyers said that as long as he wasn't making or distributing the child pornography that he wasn't doing anything that was against the law. According to the convention however, which says children will be free from all forms of exploitative pornographic performances and materials, Sharpe is guilty for having this material in his possession. After a long court battle the Supreme Court of Canada ruled that Sharpe was right. They ruled that he is allowed to possess this material under his right of freedom of expression. In my opinion this was the wrong decision because in the Criminal Code of Canada it says in section 163.2 that every person who makes, prints, publishes or possesses for the purpose of publication any child pornography is guilty of an indictable offence and liable to imprisonment for a term not exceeding ten years or an offence punishable on summary conviction.7 If this is true, then Sharpe should have been convicted of possessing of child pornography and sentenced to a prison term. I think that Sharpe is getting away with a crime every day that he is in possession of child pornography. The government has to do something in order to clear up the interpretation of the law in the case of possessing child pornography. In my opinion there may be only a few of things that could be done to stop this problem. I think one thing that could be done is to change the criminal code so that if anybody is caught in the possession of child pornography it will be an automatic prison sentence not to exceed ten years which is the length of the maximum sentence already in the criminal code. Also, if this doesn't work I think that government needs to make a change to the Charter of Rights and Freedoms. If possible, I think that an amendment should be made to the charter which excludes child pornography as being a freedom of expression. This may be a very radical idea but anybody who possesses child pornography is obviously sick and should be either committed to a correctional institution or some kind of mental health facility.
In concluding I think that Canada is following the convention, but they are only doing the bare minimum. I think in order to get rid of sexual abuse of children Canada has to do a lot more they are presently doing. I think that government should make newer, stricter laws and I think they need to really enforce these laws will all the manpower that the police have available. Also as a deterrent I think the sentences for people convicted of sex crimes against children should be raised. This might make people think twice before they sexually abuse children.