QCOSTARICA – In 2020 there were more than 900 reports of missing women in Costa Rica. Three out of every four reports were of minors, according to statistical data from the Organismo de Investigacion Judicial (OIJ).
The data, requested by La Nacion, reveals that the majority of the disappearances occurred in the provinces of San José, Alajuela and Limón.
In addition, among the main cantons where the cases were reported was Desamparados, Pérez Zeledón, Naranjo, Turrialba, San Carlos and the central cantons of the aforementioned provinces.
Most of the reports occurred in January, February, August (the highest peak) and October.
A breakdown of the statistics shows that as of November 30, 2020, there were 906 missing women, of which 686 were minors (75.7%) and 220 adults (24.3%).
At the end of November, of this total of disappeared, 394 had not yet been located. However, the figure is constantly changing, and at the beginning of this year, the figure was reduced to 73.
Six are adults and 67 are minors.
The OIJ specified that, of these 73 reports of disappearance, 43 correspond to flight from shelters (unauthorized exit by the minor), 24 to escape from home, 5 to a voluntary withdrawal and 1 to “others”.
However, as the weeks or months go by, the number of disappeared “will decrease to a figure that most likely will be close to 99% resolution, which is the historical rate of clarification,” said the head of the OIJ Office of Plans and Operations, Randall Zúñiga López.
“The figure of 73 is not something definitive, the data is constantly changing because every day, as disappearances enter, people are located and reports are generated, so that, ‘the cuts’ that are made are not daily, but is done in the first week of each month.
“What is really important is that the investigations are being carried out and that they have results,” said the chief.
As to why 75% of the disappeared are minors, Zúñiga mentioned that it is “a matter of a more sociological than a police nature,” for which he alleged that he could not go into detail.
He highlighted that in the case of men, the relationship is inverse since 67% of the men who are reported missing are adults and only 33% are minors.
Given the data, the Instituto Nacional de las Mujeres (Inamu) – National Institute for Women – indicated that “it is evident” that the disappearances of more young girls are a fact that is related to citizen security and shows the differentiated impact of violence against women.
The Inamu commented that this violence is multifactorial and the particularities that are detected among the disappearances of both sexes reflect various conditions of vulnerability, which mainly affect women and are related to a macho culture.
“Women who violate the social mandate recognized and validated for them are punished through violent acts that are expressed in various ways (it is more associated with sexual violence against them),” explained the Institute.
In addition, it specified that in these cases, violence against women may be faced with other forms of exclusion that place them in more vulnerable conditions, either because age makes it difficult for them to identify risks or because they live in conflictive situations.
The women’s institute stressed that it is imperative to end the myth of waiting 24 hours to report that person is missing since a prompt report helps judicial authorities to start the investigation as soon as possible.
For her part, María Isabel Gamboa, representative of the Scientific Council of the Center for Research in Women’s Studies (CIEM) of the University of Costa Rica (UCR), explained that it must also be taken into account that many girls and adolescents escape their homes for living in circles of violence.
The researcher and director of the Postgraduate Studies on Women at the UCR argued that it is always assumed that minors are going to be safe at home, but rather, the home can become the place of greatest danger for women.
“There is a culture of sexual violence towards girls that they try to hide as a secret. Almost in every family there is a woman who was abused in the first years of her life.
“A girl occupies a network that protects her, if it is not the family, it has to be the school, the community or the church, but that does not happen. People know and hear things, but they play dumb,” said the professor.
Duration of investigations
The head of the OIJ Office of Plans and Operations estimated that the cases reported from October to December of last year will be finalizing, for the most part, in these first three months of 2021.
Zúñiga alleged that almost 100 new cases of disappearance of women enter monthly, so “it cannot be expected that 100% of cases will be resolved on the same day, the same week and even the same month.”
“It may take a few months to reach a clearance rate like those historically managed by the OIJ. It all depends on each case,” he added.
Zúñiga assured that it is not possible to determine how long it may take to locate a missing person. “Generally, disappearance investigations have varying periods of clarification, which can be resolved in hours, a few days or last between six months and a year, sometimes even more than a year,” said the chief.
According to Zúñiga, the most preponderant factor affecting the location of the disappeared is the person’s desire to voluntarily move away from their personal circle (intentionally absent themselves through a break in ties with the family or their guardians), for whatever reasons, and thereby avoid being contacted.
Zúñiga stated that of the 73 cases in progress, only one disappearance is believed to be be against the will of the person.
“The above means that only 1% of the reports of disappearance correspond to an uncontrolled situation or external to the person, while the remaining 99% of the complaints received, after being analyzed and classified by criminal analysts, reveal that it is a product of the desire of the person to be absent intentionally,” explained Zúñiga.
The OIJ has identified that many of the women who are in the process of being located have moved away from an environment of violence and that for this reason they do not want to be located by their relatives.
Likewise, the OIIJ maintains that no disappearance is related to a criminal group that systematically engages in abducting, kidnapping or sequestering women as part of its way of operating and thus “using” them in other illicit activities (such as trafficking in persons for the purposes of illegal organ harvesting).
“The reported disappearances are the product of isolated cases and none are systematically orchestrated,” the OIJ added.
However, OIJ authorities add that they have had “systematic” complaints or those linked to organized crime due to the use of pages such as Skokka, in which socialization or even job interviews where they request sexualized material from people. They maintain that the motivation in these types of cases is different since what is sought is to extort money from the victim, not to make them disappear.
“There have also been cases of serial rapists, but we have no record of systematic or orchestrated disappearances,” reiterated the OIJ.
Use of technology
On the subject of how investigations into missing persons are carried out, the OIJ would only say that methods used today cannot be compared with those of 20, 10, or even five years ago.
Massive access to the use of technology is one of the most obvious changes that has helped the OIJ improve its procedures. Using tools such as social networks, transport apps, or express deliveries, are part of the technological advances to locate missing people.
The massive use of video cameras in homes, buildings, and public places has also been another differentiating element that has marked a substantive change in operations.
Current investigation procedures are very different from those that existed years ago and the techniques used have improved, for example, fingerprinting or DNA identification.
However, the OIJ was clear that it preferred not to elaborate on more details “so as not to reveal all the tools currently used.”