The Bell: Act now – protect our children from sexual exploitation!

St. Mark’s College conferred an Honorary Doctorate on Nancy Brown May 11.

My ministry with homeless youth over the years has highlighted for me the need for our society to wake up to the dangers that our children are facing every day.

My concern for their health has compelled me to advocate for actions to be taken immediately, especially with regard to their unlimited access to pornography through the internet.

Parents need the collaboration of government in forcing internet companies such as Pornhub to put limitations in place so children with cell phones won’t unknowingly be exposed to pornography.

Listen to the words of Jesus, reprimanding his disciples for restricting his time with the children:

People were bringing little children to Jesus for him to place his hands on them, but the disciples rebuked them.  When Jesus saw this, he was indignant. He said to them, Let the little children come to me, and do not hinder them, for the kingdom of God belongs to such as these. – Mark 10: 13-15

Can you imagine what Jesus would say to the companies selling sexual images of children without parental consent? What would he say to governments who are not acting on this issue but turning a blind eye? What would be his message to adults who are making large profits in selling children throughout the world? And what would he say to the children today?

Jesus chose to embrace the children, showing his deep care and love as well as indicating that the kingdom of God belongs to them. This scriptural story challenges Christians today to open their eyes to some unfortunate realities that need immediate attention by all to create a more humane, compassionate world for all children. Let us work together, faithfully following the mission of Jesus in stopping the harms to our children both internationally and locally.

On April 9, 2024, International Justice Mission Canada (IJM) called on the Government of Canada to take action to stop online sexual exploitation of children by Canadian-based abusers.

IJM’s 2023 Scale of Harm report “estimated that in 2022 alone, nearly half a million Filipino children – or one in 100 – were trafficked to produce online child sexual exploitation material. Since 2015, estimates by the Philippine government show Canada has consistently ranked fourth, following the United States, United Kingdom and Australia, in terms of payments made to facilitate sexually exploitive acts involving children in the Philippines.” i

“Every child, no matter where they live, deserves to live a safe, happy and healthy life. However, right now, one in six children around the world – over 449 million children – are living in a conflict zone. . . .  [C]hildren are living and growing up in extremely insecure and frequently challenging situations that could harm them for life.”ii

What can we do?

What can we do now in Canada to reverse the harms facing our children? I would suggest – review and support two current bills in Parliament.

Bill C-270 and S-210 both relate to the protection of children from harms caused particularly through pornography on the internet. We, as concerned Canadians ought to strongly endorse these laws, requiring porn sites to verify age before youth access their sites.

Parents need the assistance of government in ensuring the safety of their children. More importantly, the digital industry ought to be held accountable for allowing underage youth to access their sites. It is estimated that one in three internet users in the world are children; their lives are being harmed in the present and the future.

  • Bill S-210

Bill S-210 would restrict a young person’s online access to sexually explicit material by requiring sexually explicit websites to verify the age of their users to prevent minors from access.

This bill has passed through the Senate and is waiting for third and final vote in our House of Commons. Australia, France and UK have led the way, with many American states in process of implementing a procedure for age verification before entry to their sites. It can be done!

  • Bill C-270

Bill C-270 – Stopping Internet Sex Exploitation Act (SISE) – would add two offences to the criminal code. It seeks to prohibit the creation and distribution of porn material for a commercial purpose without verifying the age and the consent of the person shown before it is uploaded. It also seeks to create an offence for failing to remove videos or images for which consent has been withdrawn.

These laws would prevent seven or eight years olds from accidently or willfully accessing pornography. Other industries such as the liquor and cigarettes already have age verification procedures in place for customers.

Some people oppose these two laws for privacy reasons, yet they neglect the fact the social media platforms are violating the privacy of the underaged youth by spreading worldwide their images without any consent of parents or children.

Social media obligations

In Canada, the obligation of social media platforms to protect children from pornography is long overdue. It is urgent to pass and implement these bills. Children have a right to be protected from all forms of exploitation.

Let us remember that in 1991, Canada signed on to the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child which states that “government should protect children from sexual exploitation and sexual abuse, including by people forcing children to have sex for money, or making sexual pictures or films of them.”iii

It has been professionally researched that pornography objectifies the human body, sexualizes and exploits children, causing familial, social and community harms. Porn is just as addictive as chemical substances such as cocaine and heroin.

Studies have proven the negative effects of porn on the brain and neurological functions. It increases the acceptance of violence in sex, distorts one’s perceptions about sexuality and can cause aggressive and anti-social behaviour – all of which lead to the objectification of women and girls.

All too often, pornography opens the door to prostitution and human trafficking. Since COVID 19, the online luring of young girls into pornography, sex trafficking and sextortion has increased a hundredfold.

Close to home

This reality is happening in our province, perhaps in your neighbourhood. In 2012, Amanda Todd died by suicide in Port Coquitlam after being sextorted by an online predator for two years. Carson Leland, a 12 year old from Prince George, died by suicide in response to online sextortion October 12, 2023.

A recent National Post article states that “the volume of reports involving online sexual luring – offenders who troll the internet looking to entice minors for sexual purposes, even manipulating kids into meeting in person – has increased dramatically, from 220 in 2018 to 2,013 in 2022.” iv

I plead with all Christians to wake up to the tragedy facing our children both in Canada and around the world, especially those who have endured war in so many parts of our world.

The words of Jesus, “let the children come to me,” are extremely relevant for today. How can we not embrace these concerns for the safety and health of children? It requires the immediate action of all Canadians! It requires collective action, courage, creativity and compassionate care to confront the crisis before us.

Christians need to lead the way in creating a more compassionate world. Let’s dream together and faithfully follow the mission of Jesus by caring for the children of our world. As the letter to the Ephesians says, “Glory to God whose power working in us can do infinitely more than we can ask or imagine.” – Ephesians 3: 20-21.

It is time for Christians to act! Act today by communicating with your Member of Parliament and request their support Bill C-270 and S-210 to ensure justice for our children.

i IJM Calls on Canada to take Action to Reduce Online Sexual Exploitation of Children.
ii Save the Children. Surviving is just the beginning: The Impact of Conflict on Children’s Mental Health.
iii #34 UN Convention on the Rights of the Child
iv Sharon Kirkey. Canadian Kids are Targets of Sextortion & Online Sexual Luring Over Social Media. National Post. Feb. 6, 2024.

Nancy Brown, SC is retired from her 20-year role as Pastoral Counselor / Ombudsperson at Covenant House. On May 11, St. Mark’s College conferred on her its highest honour, the degree Doctor of Sacred Letters, honoris causa, with this comment:

Sister Nancy is well known for her leadership role in fighting sexual exploitation and human trafficking and her expertise has been beneficial to numerous committees and groups.

The Catholic leadership and passionate advocacy shown by Sister Nancy, through her pursuit of social justice and protection of young people, were commended by the Honorary Doctorate Selection Committee,” noted College Principal Dr. Gerry Turcotte. “Indeed, we were overwhelmed with nominations for Sister Nancy, and we could not be more honoured to award this distinction to someone who has so selflessly helped to shape the conversation on human trafficking.”

She has written this comment as a member of The Bell: Diverse Christian Voices in Vancouver.

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