Indoor Toilets, Vulnerability, and Canada’s Prostitution Law

by Michelle Brock on June 9th, 2014

There was a story from India in the news a couple weeks ago that I still haven’t been able to shake.  Two cousins from the impoverished, “low-caste” Dalit community, aged 14 and 15, went outside in the evening to use the toilet.  Indoor plumbing is still considered a luxury in many parts of the country, and it is quite common for a family to use a field or outhouse to relieve themselves.  Tragically, these two girls were attacked by a group of men.   One of the girls was raped, both were strangled, and their bodies were strung up from a mango tree.

India

Photo Source: http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-2645231/Teen-Indian-girls-raped-murdered-left-hanging-mango-tree-pictured.html

 

The community was in an outrage.  Some men were caught and arrested.  In India, rape is common and rarely punished, but gruesome, high-profile cases have been making the news in recent years. This specific case may have even been an honour killing.  The state’s Chief Secretary Alok Ranjan dubbed rape as a “trivial incident” and said the crime should “not be blown out of proportions.”

Though it’s true that indoor plumbing would have prevented this particular incident on that particular night, it’s absurd to argue that the lack of an indoor bathroom is what killed these girls.  No – what killed them was men who have been brought up in a society where women (especially women from the Dalit “untouchable” caste) have little value, and rape is a man’s right.  If every family in that community had an indoor toilet, India would still be dealing with a rape crisis because men would simply get more creative.

In the last few days, Canada has been having a very heated discussion about our prostitution laws.  In a nutshell, bill C-36, the proposed prostitution legislation that was tabled by Justice Minister MacKay, makes it illegal to purchase sex, to benefit from someone’s exploitation (ie. pimping), and to advertise the sexual services of another person.  In an effort to address the vulnerability of many of those selling sex while also touching on community protection, the bill simultaneously makes it legal for a person to sell sex, as long as they are not doing it in an area where children could reasonably be expected to be present (read more about my thoughts here).  An advocate from a sex work group made a statement about the bill, saying that “sex workers will die because of these laws.”

The argument is that making any part of the prostitution transaction illegal pushes it into the shadows and makes it more dangerous for sex workers.  While isolated areas can in some cases be more dangerous than well-lit, public areas, there is a misconception that location is to blame for the violence.  Trisha Baptie, who used to be in the sex industry, puts it best:

“It was never the laws that beat, raped and killed me and my friends — it was men. It was never the location that was unsafe, it was the man we were in that location with that made it unsafe…”

 

Switzerland 300x229People selling sex experience violence and death at significantly higher rates than the average citizen.  This is the case regardless of what prostitution laws are in place.  The law isn’t what is killing and abusing women in prostitution, it’s men paying for sex who are killing and abusing women in prostitution.

While making a documentary on prostitution and sex trafficking, my husband and I met a woman who had worked in legal brothel in Switzerland.

She experienced horrific violence at the hands of johns despite being in a legal establishment.  In some legal regimes, sex workers have panic buttons in their rooms and train each other how to get away from violent clients.   While not every john is violent, it’s not unreasonable to say that violence is inherent to prostitution because it thrives on anonymity, preys on vulnerability, and seeks to fulfill a one-sided fantasy.  While harm reduction efforts are vital and should continue, we should stop kidding ourselves by thinking that the industry will no longer have violence if we decriminalize the purchase of sex.  Perhaps it’s time to stop asking if prostitution is violent and start asking why it is violent.

These are some comments from sex buyers:

“The relationship has to stay superficial because they are a person and you’re capable of getting to know them. But once you know them, it’s a problem, because you can’t objectify them anymore.”

“…it can be very satisfying at the moment, but inevitably leads to a lot of stress and anxiety… I am supporting an industry that is exploitive and unfair and potentially harmful to myself and all parties involved…they are getting paid for it, but you are being a patron to an industry that is very dangerous…”

“Being with a prostitute is like having a cup of coffee, when you‘re done, you throw it out.”

“I have to admit that at one time I did think of women merely as sexual objects. And I‘m not proud of it. I was a product of my environment, and that‘s what was going on in the society I grew up in. I think prostitution degrades women and it treats all sexual relationships as cheap sex and not as a respectable loving relationship with intimate feelings for one another.”

MenAndWomen 300x300We collectively have an opportunity to decide which direction we want our society to head.  Laws, if enforced adequately, don’t merely have penal effects but also normative ones.  India’s attitude toward women has had horrific manifestations, like rape culture, honour killings, and female infanticide. Do we honestly think that installing indoor toilets, lighting up isolated streets, and teaching women to travel in large groups gets at the root of the problem?  Of course not.  These efforts are vitally important and can save some lives, but the core issue is men’s entitlement.  India’s long-term strategy should include holding men to account and shifting cultural values, and until that happens, we will continue to hear heart-breaking, gruesome stories in the media.

While decriminalizing the purchase of sex in Canada may have an illusion of empowering women, in reality it leads to a deeper entitlement for men.  A couple years ago, a stripper from Montreal contacted me.  She explained that when the laws changed and Montreal strip clubs started going from a “no-touch” policy to a “full contact” model, she found that men were no longer satisfied with just watching.  In a sense, the law empowered men to go further than before.  She thanked me for advocating against legalizing prostitution, because “men will just want more.”

While some women would no doubt make plenty of money by running escort services or choosing a few well-paying clients, the majority of those in prostitution do not have that kind of relative bargaining power.  And considering that we share a border with the U.S., not only will decriminalization lead to increased demand from Canadian citizens, but also from our southern neighbours.

No law is perfect, and prostitution and sex trafficking are complex issues.  But now is the time to ask ourselves what we value as a country.  Bill C-36, if implemented properly, serves as a good start if we are serious about holding the purchasers of sex to account.  The other alternative is decriminalization, which sends a very different message.  Let us seriously consider what direction we want our society to head, and what is the best option for the common good.

Signature11

 

 

 

 

 

*

Canada’s New Prostitution Bill: What You Need to Know

by Michelle Brock on June 6th, 2014

CanadaFlagOn June 4, Justice Minister Peter MacKay introduced the Protection of Communities and Exploited Persons Act (Bill C-36).  The bill was drafted as a response to last year’s Supreme Court decision, which ruled Canada’s existing prostitution laws to be unconstitutional.  The Court gave Parliament exactly one year to propose new legislation in response to the ruling, and many have been eagerly anticipating what that would look like.

And now the time has come.  Here are some exciting key points:

  • For the first time in Canada’s history, the buying of sexual services would be illegal.
  • For the first time, prostituted/trafficked people will be seen as victims of coercion or circumstance.
  • For the first time, the government of Canada will provide millions of dollars to help women and youth leave prostitution.

The preamble sets the tone for the legislation, highlighting the vulnerabilities of those in the industry and the need to target demand.

Whereas the Parliament of Canada has grave concerns about the exploitation that is inherent in prostitution and the risks of violence posed to those who engage in it;

Whereas the Parliament of Canada recognizes the social harm caused by the objectification of the human body and the commodification of sexual activity;

Whereas it is important to protect human dignity and the equality of all Canadians by discouraging prostitution, which has a disproportionate impact on women and children;

Whereas it is important to denounce and prohibit the purchase of sexual services because it creates a demand for prostitution;

Whereas it is important to continue to denounce and prohibit the procurement of persons for the purpose of prostitution and the development of economic interests in the exploitation of the prostitution of others as well as the commercialization and institutionalization of prostitution;

Whereas the Parliament of Canada wishes to encourage those who engage in prostitution to report incidents of violence and to leave prostitution;

And whereas the Parliament of Canada is committed to protecting communities from the harms associated with prostitution…

The preamble itself is a huge step in the right direction for Canada, as it acknowledges many of the complexities of prostitution.  Previously, prostitution was solely seen as an issue of nuisance and criminality, whereas we are beginning to see it as an issue of social justice.

Now let’s get into the guts of the proposed legislation.  Under the proposed law:

1.  Purchasing sexual services is illegal. This is the critical piece, as it seeks to reduce demand for paid sex.  Demand is the economic engine that fuels sexual exploitation and makes sex trafficking extremely lucrative.  While there will always be some people who go out of their way to pay for sex, adding barriers will deter the majority from engaging.  According to a study that asked men (including some who admitted they had paid for sex) which initiatives would deter them from purchasing sex, 80-83% said jail time and 66-79% mentioned monetary fines.  Targeting demand is a big step forward if we are to deal with the issue of sexual exploitation on a long-term scale.

2.  Receiving a financial or material benefit from exploiting another person would be illegal. This means pimping.  Other non-exploitative arrangements would not be criminalized.  Before the Supreme Court ruling, living off the avails of prostitution was a criminal act, meaning that body guards, accountants and drivers technically could have been criminalized because they were benefitting off the prostitution of a person they were providing services for.  This would no longer be the case.  Spouses, roommates, and dependents of those in prostitution would also be exempt from a criminal offence.  However, trafficking (exploiting someone for profit), would not be legal.  While traffickers could potentially masquerade as “bodyguards” and “drivers,” the exemptions made in the bill align with the Charter and allow for those who wish to hire security services for their own protection to do so.

3.   Advertising the sexual services of another person is illegal.  This applies to both print media and the internet.  Those who advertise their own sexual services are exempt.

4.  Selling sexual services where a child could reasonably be expected to be present is illegal. This serves as the “protection of communities” portion of the bill, and such places would include schools, nurseries, churches, and malls.  A person can sell sex anywhere else, including indoors in private units for example, just not around children. Personally, I’d like to see this point clarified when the bill goes to committee.  It would be beneficial if “location where children are present” was further defined to avoid ambiguity (for example, within 500 meters from a school/daycare etc…I think most Canadians would this this is pretty reasonable). This specification would be helpful both for those who sell sex as well as law enforcement, so there is less room for confusion.

5.  The penalty for pimping, as well as for purchasing sex from a child will both be raised.

6.  The government will pledge $20 million in new funding.  This includes support for grassroots organizations dealing with the most vulnerable. Assistance will be provided to those who want to leave prostitution.  There is a push for more funding as well, but this is a good start and something we have not seen on this scale before.

The Canadian House of Commons 1024x682

Overall thoughts:

I am pleased to see that this bill puts the responsibly on the johns.  For far too long, prostitution has been an anonymous, low-risk activity for those seeking to purchase sex.  Considering that prostitution has a high degree of violence (regardless of legal context), the only way to reduce the harm on a wide, long-term scale is to reduce demand for paid sex.  If partnered with an awareness campaign that educates Canadians about the realities of prostitution, we have an opportunity to shift the way people view the purchase of sex, and will make great strides toward gender equality.

I am also pleased to see that the bill marks a paradigm shift in how we view people who sell sex.  It is no longer assumed that they are criminals, but seen as vulnerable people who need protection and services.  If police are adequately trained and the “location where children could be present” is specified further to avoid ambiguity, this law gives those selling sex the ability to reach out to police if they need help.

It’s worth pointing out here that our two options as a country right now are Bill C-36 or full decriminalization.  Do we want to make it easier or harder for people to purchase sex?  If we as a country want to take a stand against commercial sexual exploitation, Bill C-36 is worth considering. While details of the legislation can be fine tuned along the way, the foundations are good.

In my opinion, it’s likely that there will be a court challenge – because let’s be honest, no matter what legislation was presented, pro-sex work groups will settle for nothing less than full decriminalization.  However, the three things that they requested at the Supreme Court level have been granted – a person can now sell sex out of an indoor space (the bawdy house provision was struck down), they can hire security and accountants (the living off the avails provision was struck down), and they can communicate for the purposes of sex as long as it’s not in an area where children could reasonably be expected to be present.  They essentially got what they asked for.

But some want to take it further.  They want full decriminalization – including the buying of sex, even though the majority of Canadians disagree.  They want to expand the market for paid sex (it’s a lucrative business after all), while the government is trying to decrease sexual exploitation.  These are very different goals.  Considering that prostitution disproportionately affects marginalized and vulnerable groups and is rife with violence regardless of legal context, the government’s decision to reduce demand for paid sex is definitely a move in the right direction.

We applaud Minister MacKay on his courageous first step of introducing legislation that recognizes the need for addressing demand and for pledging much needed funding for frontline programs.  Let’s continue to push ahead and work together to ensure safety and dignity for women, men, and children.

Signature11

 

 

 

 

*

This Guy is Bicycling Across Canada to Fight Human Trafficking

by Michelle Brock on May 9th, 2014

Daniel Perrett is going on a bike ride…a BIG bike ride.  While most of us huff and puff our way through the spring, our bodies woefully unprepared to take on rigorous physical activity after months of winter hibernation, Daniel is ready to take on 5,000 km from Montreal to Vancouver.  His goal is to raise $10,000 for Chab Dai Canada, an anti-trafficking organization based out of Montreal.  We had the opportunity to meet Daniel at out McGill screening in April, and this week got to ask him some questions about the ride.  Today is his first day on the road!

Daniel Perrett1

What inspired you to choose Chab Dai, and what will the money you raise be used for?

When I was researching anti-trafficking organizations in Montreal, I learned about Chab Dai and was inspired by their vision to end human trafficking through collaboration and partnership building. When I dug a little deeper, I learned that Chab Dai Canada was in the process of fundraising to create the Canadian Freedom Registry; a database of anti-human trafficking organizations. All of the $10,000 I raise will go towards the creation of the Canadian Freedom Registry.

What kind of training have you been doing in preparation for your ride?

I have been talking with other bikers who have done the trip and spending time in the gym and doing cross training.

Map1

What is the biggest challenge you anticipate on the road?

One of the biggest challenges will be loneliness. I will be on the road for 50 days and that’s a long time to go without seeing friends and family. I’m also expecting to face some serious headwinds, which can be pretty tough.

packing2 225x300

Final preparations

What part of the ride are you most excited about?

It’s too hard to choose one thing. I can’t wait to tell people more about the Freedom Registry and have the news spread via the social media and TV. I’m also stoked to discover what Canada is really like in between Vancouver and Montreal. And of course, I’m excited to meet amazing people who are also fighting human trafficking.

How long will the ride take?

I leave today, May 9th and I hope to arrive back in Vancouver on June 28th. That’s 50 days to ride 5000km.

Here’s a video of Dan talking about why this issue matters to him.

 

TODAY, May 9, marks the FIRST DAY of Daniel’s ride!  He would love to raise the first $4,000 today, so make a donation at give.danielperrett.com and help him kick off his ride with a bang!  You can also follow his journey on facebook and twitter @danperrettweets, as well as get more info at danielperrett.com.

 

Daniel, we’re cheering you on!!

Signature11

 

 

 

*

Are You a Good Sleeper? Here’s a Challenge.

by Michelle Brock on May 1st, 2014

Window1“We can easily forgive a child who is afraid of the dark; the real tragedy of life is when men are afraid of the light.”

-Author unknown

 

 

A few nights ago as we got ready for bed, Jay mentioned what a luxury it was to fall asleep without fear.  There were no bombs going off outside or floods threatening to sweep away the building from under us.  We weren’t being held captive or wondering if our families were still alive.  We weren’t preoccupied with whether we would have food to eat the next day.  Night, for us, was a time of rest.  

As I lay awake, I thought of people around the world for whom night was a very different reality.

Fathers who were wide awake, protecting their families from rogue militants.

Mothers who had everything packed in case of a sudden evacuation.

Families in refugee camps trying to find silence with 20 family members in one tent.

Trafficking captives forced to service men into the morning hours.

Child abuse victims wondering if tonight it would happen again.

Sweatshop workers enduring long nights of physical pain with no hope of seeing a doctor.

Homeless people looking for a place to sleep in -20C weather.

Those of us who have the luxury of fear-free rest have an opportunity to bring that gift to others. Whether it’s supporting fair labour initiatives so that people have a chance to build real livelihoods, researching best practices for peace-building in conflict zones, fostering or adopting a child who is at risk for being preyed upon or abused, offering pro-bono services to people who cannot afford a doctor, a dentist, or a lawyer, or making laws that protect the most vulnerable in our communities, the luxury of a good night’s sleep gives us the energy we need to look out for others.

SyrianRefugees

Syrian Refugees. Photo: UNHCR B. Sokol

 

Next time you fall asleep in a comfortable bed without fear filling your heart, think of a way you can invest into the safety and well-being of someone else.

Signature1

 

 

 

*

The Locust Effect: Why the End of Poverty Requires the End of Violence

by Michelle Brock on April 23rd, 2014

For more info, check out The Locust Effect website.

Signature1

 

 

 

*

Invite Your MP to Attend Parliamentary Screening of Red Light Green Light

by Michelle Brock on March 18th, 2014

Parliament1

A Parliamentary screening of Red Light Green Light is taking place in Ottawa on April 9, and all MPs, senators & staff have already received a formal invitation to attend. This is a great opportunity for your representative to learn about sex trafficking, prostitution, and various efforts around the world to prevent sexual exploitation. If you’d like your MP to attend, please send them an email, requesting their attendance on April 9.

Below is an outline you can use, but feel free to personalize it as you wish.

If you do not know who your representative is, you can find out by inserting your postal code here.

Dear MP _______________,

My name is _____________ and I am a resident of ______________.  I am contacting you about an upcoming Parliamentary screening of Red Light Green Light, a documentary made by two Canadians about sex trafficking, prostitution, and various efforts around the world to curb sexual exploitation.   All MPs, senators and staff are welcome to attend the non-partisan screening, which is being hosted by MP Joy Smith, MP Maurice Vallacott, and Senator Mobina Jaffer.  A formal invitation has already been sent to your office.

As outlined in your invitation,  Jared and Michelle Brock, the directors of the film, will be present for Q&A discussion after the screening.  It will be a great opportunity to gain more understanding on a critical and complex issue.  As a member of your constituency who cares about this issue, I urge you to attend.

Please RSVP to the office of MP Joy Smith to confirm your spot.  The RSVP contact email is listed on the bottom of the invitation you received this week.

Please let me know if you plan to attend.  Thank you for your service to our country and to my community.

Sincerely,

(your name)

(your contact info: phone, email, mailing address)

We hope to see all your representatives there!

Signature1

 

 

 

 

*

Gender Inequality: Real or Imagined?

by Michelle Brock on March 8th, 2014

chalkboard

I grew up in a European family where my gender did not hold me back from dreaming.  I had the privilege of going to an English immersion school in Finland, an international school in Ethiopia, and a Christian academy for junior high – each providing me with an excellent education and with it, opportunities. My best friends in Africa were were Jesse and Jakke, two brothers who took me on all their adventures.  We were experts at spotting hyenas in the night and making it around their property without touching the ground once.  “Don’t touch the lava,” we would say as we climbed along window sills and fences, letting our imaginations fly.

I can honestly say that I never even considered gender inequality once as a kid.  Well, maybe a couple times, but only on the soccer field at recess when the guys would hog the ball.

Ethiopian Women 300x207But one day, when my dad I were visiting Blue Nile Falls with some family from Canada, we saw women working hard in a field, carrying huge loads, while the men sat under a shaded tree chewing khat.  Someone in the group made a comment, “oh how typical, the guys watch the women do all the work.”

Typical?

I didn’t get it.  My mom worked hard, and so did my dad.  I was sure the men were just taking a break. And perhaps they were.

It wasn’t until I visited Namibia as an 18 year old that I personally felt gender inequality.  My friend and I were walking on a sandy road in the desert heat, and a truck full of men drove by.  They began to hoot and holler as the truck slowed.  No one else was around.

My heart beat wildly.  We were terrified.  In that moment, my Canadian citizenship, my middle class upbringing, and my academic accomplishments meant nothing.  There was only one reality that remained, pounding in my mind: I am a female.  When the truck finally moved on, we breathed a sigh of relief.

My fear turned to rage.  For the first time I realized that because of my gender, I could not enjoy a peaceful walk alone in the desert, or forest, or mountains without the risk of getting raped, assaulted, or ogled.  How dare they take this joy from me?  Since then, I have always been slightly jealous of my male friends, whose chances of being assaulted on a morning jog are very unlikely.

running

My eyes have been opened to the plight of women around the world.

I recently read an enlightening piece by Molly Edmonds that highlights global gender inequality. According to the UN, women do two thirds of the world’s work, receive 10% of the world’s income, and own 1% of the means of production.  They often get penalized for taking time off work to care for sick children.  Women are at high risk of being physically or sexually abused, and in some areas, rape is used as a weapon of war.  There are about 1.5 billion people living on less the a dollar a day, and most of them are women.  In some countries, women are not allowed to drive a car, or leave the house without their husband’s permission.  Despite making up half the world’s population, women hold only 15.6% of elected representative seats globally.  Then there is female infanticide, child brides, and sex trafficking victims.  Women are overrepresented in prostitution, especially if they are from an ethnic background that is oppressed or marginalized.

I’ve met many women for which some of these experiences ring true.  So you can understand why I am offended when some people say that gender inequality is inconsequential.  For some, the concept of gender equality evokes images of aggressive women taking over a business meeting, trampling men under their stilettos.  Others get stuck in a conversation about how gender equality threatens to water down the family unit.  Those who refuse to explore the world outside of these boundaries clearly misunderstand gender equality altogether.  Equality does not threaten the unique differences between men and women, but rather allows us to celebrate them more fully.

I once read the quote of an activist who was imprisoned in South America.  She said, “I do not seek women’s rights, but human rights for women.”  These words have resonated with me ever since. International Women’s Day is not about women being better than men, or about some secret agenda to take over the world.  It is about acknowledging us as human beings and respecting our worth, our contribution, and our legacy.

Today, take some time to celebrate women in your life, to learn about the plight of those around the world, and to invest in the lives of women who are working hard to survive. My husband and I love to make micro-credit loans through KIVA - which allows us to support the dreams of women in developing countries.

Happy International Women’s Day!

Signature

 

 

 

*

Order Your Postcards Today & Help Bring the Nordic Model to Canada!

by Michelle Brock on February 24th, 2014

Canada Post Mailbox1 1024x682In response to the recent Supreme Court ruling on prostitution, three organizations – EVE, Sextrade 101 and the London Abused Women’s Centre - have launched a national postcard campaign.  The initiative highlights the Nordic Model as the way to move forward, and based on the following components:

  • Decriminalize persons being sold
  • Penalize buyers, pimps, and procurers
  • Mandate robust funding to women wishing to exit the sex industry

 

The goal is to demonstrate to growing support for this approach to our government, which is currently considering their response to the Supreme Court ruling.

50,000 have been printed, with the hope that they will all be signed and sent to MP Joy Smith, who will then present them to Justice Minister Peter MacKay.  You can order yours today by emailing nordicmodel@lawc.on.ca.

postcards

You can find more information on the campaign here!

Signature1

 

 

 

*

Unexpected Dangers of the Sea

by Michelle Brock on February 19th, 2014

 waves

Last week I was on Europe’s Atlantic coast, watching massive waves roll in during a storm. The water crashed against the cliffs, promising to sweep away anyone whose curiosity led them too close.

I shuddered, as I always do when I see nature exert its raw fury.

I came across a video which was taken during that same storm. A man hopped over the “Danger” ropes that had been set up, wanting to take some photos of the raging sea. By the time he saw the wave come in from behind, it was too late. He did not survive.

This man’s fate has haunted me all week, as have the stories of others who were swept away in that very same storm.

I found myself thinking of the many prostitution survivors we’ve met whose stories have eerie similarities. Many of them got too close to a boy who turned out to be a pimp. Some were enticed by the money that could be made in the sex industry, only to discover that they could not get out. We’ve met a father whose daughter did not survive – she was murdered, along with a seven month old baby inside her. The police suspect a john had killed her, but he was never found. By the time each of these young women realized what was happening, they’d been swept into the dark underworld of violence and oppression.

Let’s make it our goal to set up systems that help us all, especially the most vulnerable in our communities, to stay on dry land.

Signature

 

 

 

 

*

Watering My Lawn is My Right

by Michelle Brock on January 21st, 2014

drought

January is California’s rainy season.  I’ve spent the last 3 weeks in a town outside of San Francisco, expecting to see rain clouds and cool temperatures.  Instead, the governor just declared a drought emergency, with many regions not getting any precipitation at all for almost 50 days.

Wells have dried up.  Roaring rivers have shrivelled to a trickle, making bridges over them obsolete.  A lake where locals usually go to swim has become a destination for treasure hunts, with long lost artifacts sitting openly on the dry river bottom, no longer hidden by the deep blue waters.

Citizens in the area have been mandated by the municipality to reduce their water usage by 20-30%, and all outdoor lawn watering is prohibited.

It is in times like this that our cultural values are challenged by nature.  The Western world prides itself on self-sufficiency, independence, and individual rights.  Steeped in these beliefs, it is difficult for some to adjust to a community mindset when an emergency comes along.

sprinkler1This past week, I have taken several neighbourhood walks.  Not only have I seen people watering their lawns, but even their pavement.  One small yard had 6 sprinklers running at full blast, with wasted water pouring down the sidewalk and into the drain.  I considered being that guy and reporting them.  Instead, I chose to believe that they did not know about the drought declaration.

Chances are they did know, revealing a deep-rooted belief:  their individual right to a green lawn trumped the collective rights of an entire community to a life-sustaining resource.

In university I took a course on natural disaster vulnerability management, and learned that natural occurrences turn into natural disasters because humans make themselves vulnerable.  We build on fault lines and floodplains.  We over-consume natural resources, leaving little margin for emergencies. We poison our own rivers.

And, like the group here in California who decided to build a campfire during a severe drought last week, we assume we can be the exception.  This little campfire sparked a wildfire that burned down dozens of homes and further depleted the state’s much needed water reserve.

Photo credit Nick Ut Associated Press

Photo credit- Nick Ut : Associated Press

 

Individual rights certainly have their place, but I wonder if it’s time to revisit an old-fashioned concept that has been lost in our pursuit of personal success:

What is good for my community?

 

It is this question that drives people to sacrifice some of their personal rights for the well-being of others around them.  Our lives are interconnected, and the way we steward our individual rights can have an enormous effect on our communities as a whole.

Dealing with environmental scarcity is just the tip of the ice berg.  We must be willing to ask this same question when it comes to addressing other social ills – like poverty, or sex trafficking, or economic inequality.  What individual rights are we willing to put on hold to advocate for the good of society as whole?

Signature

 

 

 

 

*