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Outgoing minister says sexual harassment common in the police force

January 11, 2011

Costa Rica’s Ombudswoman’s office has condemned the Public Security Ministry for not making a sufficient attempt to prevent sexual harassment in the police force.

In a report issued on Monday, the office announced that the Security Ministry has not “complied with… required reforms to combat sexual harassment.” The report also said the ministry charged with public safety has the highest number of sexual harassment complaints of any govenment institution. In 2010, the ministry accounted for 47 of the 130 sexual harassment complaints that the Ombudswoman’s office received that year.

The report also criticized the ministry for not reporting sexual harassment cases to the Ombudswoman’s office, a stipulation added in June, 2010 to the country’s 16-year-old Law Against Sexual Harassment.

The report comes a day after Vice Minister of Security Flora Calvo, who will leave her post on Jan. 15, said she had received “the most vile message that one can imagine”  on her cell phone from a male police chief in San José.

Calvo told the daily La Nación that she was internally encouraged to keep the message under wraps and that her “boldness to report the message” caused her “downfall,” and ultimately forced her to resign from the ministry.

The unidentified police chief reportedly told Security Ministry Internal Affairs officials this week that the message was part of an academic assignment for his criminology class, and that he sent the message to Calvo by mistake. According to female Police Chief Xinia Vasquez, a witness in the investigation, he intended to send the message to someone else in his phone whose name also started with the letter F.

The assignment was to send a message from a social network containing sexual content to an acquaintance in order to analyze Costa Rica’s sexual double standard, disciplinary investigators said in a press conference Monday.

Public Security Minister José Tijerino said in the conference that the problem in the ministry “isn’t as serious as Calvo reported,” and that Calvo’s “personal evaluation” of the message might have exaggerated the situation.

Still, “the Ombudswoman’s office insists that the Public Security Ministry is in noncompliance with the Law Against Sexual Harassment for not including the internal reforms that they are supposed to…and for not correcting a situation that that the Ombudswoman’s office has been warning about.”

In a press release, Ombudswoman Ofelia Taitelbaum urged Tijerino to “not take this problem lightly. The problem exists, it’s not just perception,” she said.

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