QCOSTARICA – Thousands of women report of being harassed in the streets of Costa Rica, the capital city of San Jose with the most number of cases, despite there is no law that sends an offender to jail.
According to a study by the Defensoría de los Habitantes (Ombudsman) from complaints filed with the Poder Judicial (Judiciary), in 2011 (the latest numbers available) there were 7.321 complaints.
The Inamu (Instituto Nacional de la Mujer) says there is a need for strong laws to put an end to this problem.
“Girls and women, in a dress or pants are victims of street harassement in every corner of the country,” Ginnés Rodriguez, Telenoticias news anchorwoman
Currently, the only fine, regardless of the grossness of the offence, is a maximum of ¢15.000 colones (US$28). But, to charge and impose the fine, it is necessary to have sufficient evidence against a suspect.
Last October, a young man, who was later killed in an un-related incident, dared to expose publicly a “viejo verde” (a Spanish term for a pervert) on the social media, uploading a video of the man using his cellular phone camera to allegedly video up a woman’s skirt while walking the avenidas of downtown San Jose.
Every day, everywhere, women are on the receiving end of a “piropo” that can be from a compliment to a catcall, sexually explicit comment, sexist remark, groping, leering, stalking, flashing, and even assault.
“Que rica mami” (you look great) can quickly to turn to a nasty and dark place for a woman.
Most women (and some men) will face gender-based street harassment by strangers in their life. The harassment can be so degrading that can leave a woman horrified, limiting mobility and access to public spaces.
Some men say it is the woman’s fault, the way she dresses. Some men say they can’t help themselves. Others shrug and say, it is the way of things in Costa Rica. But is it?
Let’s start with understanding what is street harassment.
According to Stop Street Harassment, street harassment is “unwanted comments, gestures, and actions forced on a stranger in a public place without their consent and is directed at them because of their actual or perceived sex, gender, gender expression, or sexual orientation.”
The organization states there are three levels of street harassment. The levels are severe, moderately severe, and least severe.
- The level “severe” includes an unfamiliar man making “sexually explicit reference to a woman’s body or to sexual activities”, or calling out profanities based on racial, ethnic, gender, or sexuality.
- The level “moderately severe” includes an unfamiliar man making “sexual innuendos”.
- The level “least severe” includes making gestures towards women in a manner that is “not political in nature”.
A number of studies from around the world have attempted to assess the prevalence of street harassment.
- A 2014 study of 2,000 Americans was commissioned by an activist group and conducted by GfK. 65% of women and 25% of men reported having been the victims of street harassment in their lives. 41% of women and 16% of men said they had been physically harassed in some way, such as by being followed, flashed, or groped.
- The Canadian government sponsored a large data research project in 1993 called the Violence Against Women Survey. In the data sample of over 12,000 women, 85% said they were victims of harassment by a stranger.
- In a 2002 survey of Beijing residents, 58% cited public buses as a common location for sexual harassment.
- Additional studies on the prevalence of public harassment have been conducted in the United Kingdom, Poland, Egypt, India, Israel, South Korea, Yemen, and others.
- According to Chilean President Michelle Bachelet, “violence and harassment against women and girls in public spaces remains a largely neglected issue, with few laws or policies in place to address it.”
- One in four women experience street harassment by the age of 12.
While street harassment is most frequent for teenagers and women in their 20s, the chance of it happening never goes away and mature women have shared stories.
It needs to stop.