Q JOURNAL – Stories of women in Costa Rica being sexually harassed while riding a bus, train or in a taxi are many, but few, very few ever get past the story telling and to the hands of police and the courts, allowing the perpetrators to continue at will.
The reasons are many.
For example, the Consejo de Transporte Publico (CTP) – the government agency that regulates public transport – considers the matter is not within its competence, rather to that of each operator. And bus companies and taxi cooperatives lack protocols to deal with these situations.
In its report, La Nacion describes the case of a 13 year-old girl who travels by bus to school; it is raining, hot inside the bus, the windows are closed, more and more people get on, the space gets tighter and tighter.
The girl is seated exposed to other passengers, when a man, standing next to her, begins to rub his penis against the schoolgirl’s shoulder and although she tries to move him off with her elbow, she is not successful.
No other passenger seem to notice what is happening, and if one does, ignores it. The friction, invasive and grotesque, intensifies and finally, the man ejaculates in the shoulder of the student.
The story is true, it happened recently on a Sabana-Cementerio bus to a girl named Velasquez.
On that occasion, the victim did not react for fear and the aggressor left the bus at the next stop.
Without the reaction, there is no possibility of other people helping. In addition, it is difficult to identify, locate and punish those responsible for cases such as these in a public transport vehicle, says Alexandir Arronis, head of the Sexual Offences Unit of the Organismo de Investigacion Judicial (OIJ).
According to the OIJ, in the last four months of 2016, ten complaints were filed for sexual harassment in a public transport vehicle.
The penalty is between two and eight years in prison.
Arronis said that these types of crimes are very common, but the number of complaints is very low because the victim, usually women, do not dare to go to the authorities.
The major problem is that most victims do not act at the moment and try to stop the aggressor with the help of third parties, who also become witness to prosecute.
So far this year, two men have been sentenced to more than three years in prison for touching women on buses or the train.
The latest conviction was in February when a 62-year-old man inappropriately touched a woman’s buttocks. At the time, other passengers reacted and detained the man.
Last Thursday, a 26-year-old man was arrested for putting his hands under a the skirt of a woman while rising the Alajuela – San Jose bus.
Despite the call by authorities to act and denounce any type of sexual abuse, the reality lived by many women is another.
And not all is physical contact. Verbal abuse is all around us, that today also includes text and voice messages over smartphones.
“I complained to the bus terminal guard about the behavior of the taxi drivers … what he said was that it always happens,” related Paolo Pizarro, whose wife had to endure the insults of a group of taxi drivers at the San Jose bus terminal last month.
Ximena Alfaro, user of Uber, related how weeks ago she received a message from a driver of that service in which it said: “With all due respect, you are a very sexy girl.”
She immediately filed the complaint and the company chose to pay her back the money for the trip and block that driver from her coming into contact with him again. But she was not assured whether the man would continue to provide services or not.
According to Arronis, when the sexual harassment is expressed orally or by way of a text or voice message, it is a misdemeanor and punishment is up to 30 days fine. In 2015, the Poder Judicial responded to 2.638 complaints for “disrespectful propositions.” The 2016 numbers are not yet available.
But not all is for not.
Larissa Arroyo, a lawyer specializing in Human Rights, said that today women are denouncing more because they feel empowered and have learned how to react.
Orlando Santiago, of the Auto Transportes Desamparados, said that about 15 bus companies train their staff to know how to react in case of sexual violence against passengers.
Gilberth Urena, of the Foro Nacional de Taxistas (National Forum of Taxi Drivers), acknowledged that following the complaints of sexual harassment, all they can do is suspend (service) calls to the reported taxi driver.
Source: La Nacion
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