When my husband Jay and I were backpacking through Central America, we took a local bus from Belize to Chetumal, Mexico. At the border we all got off to go through customs, with the understanding that the bus would still be there to take us the rest of the way to the station like had been promised.
We discovered, however, that the bus had disappeared. Along with dozens of locals, we had to catch taxis to the bus terminal in hopes that our pillows (the only items we had left on the bus) would still be there if we found the bus at the station. Other passengers had left even more valuable items on the bus, and some were travelling with children which made catching a taxi quite a hassle.
We arrived at the station and waited for our bus to arrive. When it finally did, all of the belongings that had been left on it had disappeared. Everyone was angry, as the bus driver had deviated from the plan that we had been told when we purchased our tickets. The bus driver simply said, “I had a schedule to keep,” but considering that he got to the station after we did, we were all skeptical. Jay has a bad back and was not happy his pillow had been stolen, but this was minor compared to what others had lost. It grieved us to watch local people experience injustice, even in this minor way, knowing that for some of them even a taxi ride would cost more than they had to spare.
Everything in me wanted to scream, “But we paid for these tickets! We were promised that we would be taken all the way to the station. How dare you violate the rules of a business transaction? As a paying customer, I have rights.”
As a paying customer, I have rights.
This is a concept I have been thinking about all weekend. What exactly are our rights as paying customers? If I pay for a meal at a restaurant, I expect to have it served to me. If I pay for a plane ticket, I expect to reach my destination. But where does the black and white end and the gray begin?
If someone pays for a gun, do they deserve to use it for whatever they wish? If someone pays an entrance fee to a national park, do they have the right to litter? If someone pays to go on a safari, do they deserve to shoot a lion? If someone pays for a diamond mined by a slave, do they have the right to wear it on their finger? If a man pays for a woman’s dinner, is he entitled to sex afterwards? If someone pays for sex with a prostituted woman, do they have the right to her body? Victor Malarek, the host of CTV’s W5 who we interviewed in our documentary about sex trafficking, says this:
“Money is the ultimate conscience pacifier.”
I am sick and tired of hearing johns say that just because they paid for a sexual service, they deserve to have their fantasies carried out. In The Johns: Sex for Sale and the Men Who Buy It, one john says, “I want everything…If I am going to pay them, they better do as they’re told.”
This kind of entitlement is exactly what fuels sex trafficking. It is how sex tourists justify their trips abroad to use and abuse impoverished, exploited women and girls. If the exchange of money was the only moral filter for our actions, the rich would have the right do demand whatever they wanted, regardless of the cost to other human beings. And compared to much of the world, those of us who are North Americans are rich – so how are we stewarding that power?
We need to set aside our individual entitlement and instead think about collective entitlement. My right to pay for sex is trumped by your right not to sell your body. My right to litter is trumped by the right of future generations to enjoy the global commons.
In what ways do you think our society is entitled? In what ways do you feel entitled? Where do you think the lines begin to blur between paying for a service and harming others? Do you agree with Victor Malarek’s statement that money is an ultimate conscience pacifier? Would love to hear your thoughts.