Tuesday, 24 November 2020

12 Legislators put the brakes on street harassment bill

The new law criminalizes exhibitionism and masturbation in public spaces or on means of public transportation, in addition to persecution or cornering and the production of audiovisual material.

(QCOSTARICA) A group of 12 legislators submitted to constitutional consultation the bill to sanction street harassment, which was approved in the first debate on Tuesday.

Legislators of PRN, PLN, PUSC and PRSC parties filed a constitutional consult request, suspended the second and final vote on the legislation that criminalizes exhibitionism and masturbation in public spaces or on means of public transportation

With ‘constitutional consult’ to the Constitutional Court or Sala IV, debate and second vote that was to be before Congress this Thursday is suspended.

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The signatories of the consulta are legislators Carlos Avendaño, Melvin Núñez, Geovanny Gómez, Floria Segreda, Mileidy Alvarado and Xiomara Rodríguez, of the National Restoration Party (PRN); David Gourzong, Jorge Fonseca, Paola Valladares and Luis Antonio Aiza, from the National Liberation Party (PLN); Oscar Cascante, from the Partido Unidad Social Cristiana (PUSC); and Otto Roberto Vargas, from the Republican Social Christian Party (PRSC).

The bill, Ley Contra el Acoso Sexual Callejero (file number 20.299) was approved on Tuesday unanimous by all 49 of the 57 legislators present for the vote.

The bill criminalizes the most severe forms of street sexual harassment: exhibitionism and masturbation in public spaces or on means of transport, as well as persecution or cornering and the production of audiovisual material.

The presiding judges for each case would determine to apply a prison term or fines, as follows:

  • From ten months to one and a half years in prison: to those who photograph or record with a sexual connotation, and without their consent, people in places of public access and in services for the paid transportation of people. The penalty could go up to two years in prison if the material is shown or transmitted to another person.
  • From six months to one year in prison: whoever masturbates or exhibits their genitals with sexual intention in public.
  • From eight months to one year in prison: whoever chases or corners a person for sexual purposes.
  • The number of days fine will be at the discretion of the judges, depending on “the limits indicated for each crime and offenses, according to the seriousness of the fact, the circumstances of the mode, time and place, as well as the characteristics of the author, directly related to the criminal or contravening conduct.
  • The penalty fine may not exceed 360 days. Each of these days will be calculated according to the offender’s financial situation, taking into account their standard of living, daily income and expenses to meet their needs and those of their family.
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The penalties would be increased by a third if the offender is a repeat offender, if the offenses are committed by more than one person or if the victim is a minor, senior or has a disability.

In the image, a graffiti located in front of the south side of the Cathedral of Cartago. Photo: Rafael Pacheco.

In addition, the new law will classify as a “contravenciones” (infractions), within the Penal Code, some conduct classified by the National Institute for Women (Inamu) as “less harmful”.

Currently, the Code establishes “obscene words or acts”, “disrespectful propositions” and “exhibitionism” as contraventions. However, the new law adds, “words, noises, whistles, gasps, moans, gestures or gestures with sexual connotation towards another person without their consent”.

The initiative will also increase penalties for infractions, from the current fine of between 5 and 30 days to between 15 and 30 days fine.

Amanda Segura Salazar, Inamu law firm adviser and criminal lawyer, explained that the concept of contravention introduced by the new law will better protect women’s rights.

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The law also provides that, in addition to imprisonment or fines for those who commit crimes or contraventions, judges apply accessory penalties, which would consist of addiction treatments and specialized programs for the control of violent behavior.

These initiatives aim to re-educate and raise awareness on issues such as toxic masculinities, gender equality, and respect for women’s human rights.

The expenses incurred for these treatments will be borne by the State, except if the convicted person has sufficient resources to cover them.

Amanda Segura Salazar, Inamu law firm adviser and criminal lawyer, explained that the concept of contravention introduced by the new law will better protect women’s rights.

“The current violation is intended to protect ‘good customs.’ It does not have a gender perspective or from the victims, but is thought from how other people observe these actions,” said the expert.

The Minister for the Status of Women and President of the Inamu, Patricia Mora, considers that the bill approved by the deputies “is essential for a cultural change.”

“We women have the right to walk without fear through the city. They are acts that invade our bodies and that, in some way, disrespect life in society,” she said.

There was no word from the Constitutional Court on the time it will take to resolve the constitutional challenge filed on Wednesday.



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