Security vice minister alleges harassment

January 13, 2011

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

In a report issued on Monday, the office announced that the Public 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 government institution. In 2010, the ministry accounted for 47 of the 130 sexual harassment complaints filed against government employees at the Ombudswoman’s office last year.

The report also criticized the ministry for failing to report several 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 Public 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 pressured to remain silent about the message, and when she finally broke that silence, she was allegedly forced out of the ministry.

The police chief, whose identity was not revealed, 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.

Students were instructed to send a message that contained sexual content via social networking media to an acquaintance, internal police investigators said at a press conference Monday.

Public Security Minister José Tijerino said 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,” the Ombudswoman’s office report said.

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

In a press conference on Tuesday, Costa Rican President Laura Chinchilla encouraged Calvo to move forward with her legal complaint. Chinchilla also promised to “identify all the public ministries in this country that do not have regulations against sexual harassment.”

Costa Rica’s National Institute for Women (INAMU) will be the lead agency overseeing the review. INAMU President Maureen Clarke told The Tico Times that the institute has already contacted the Public Security Ministry about elaborating internal policies and sanctions to help thwart sexual harassment in the workplace.

She said INAMU will host workshops with the ministry and create a system that fosters a culture that encourages employees to report sexual harassment.

Under the new reforms added last year to the Law Against Sexual Harassment, all ministries are required to create clear regulations to combat sexual harassment according to recommendations established by the Ombudswoman’s office. The intermediary office issued suggestions to the Public Security Ministry last year and gave the public bureau until Sept. 2, 2010 to implement the anti-sexual harassment policies.

So far, the ministry has not instituted any new guidelines.

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