“The place you will never want to stay”: That’s the line an anti-human trafficking organization wants tourists to remember before they try to have sex with a minor in Costa Rica.
The Rahab Foundation posted a fake ad for a prison cell at La Reforma penitentiary on the home-sharing service Airbnb. The ad offers would-be guests “a simple and isolated space” with 24-hour surveillance for those willing to “share the facilities with dozens of people.” Using #Jailbnb on social media, the foundation is trying to raise awareness about Costa Rican laws governing sex and deter sex offenders.
“If you are thinking about visiting Costa Rica with the purpose of paying for sex with underage people you could stay in this place for years or forever since this is a felony under Costa Rica’s law,” the listing warns. Caveat emptor, indeed.
Airbnb, which claims 40 million users, was not in on the guerrilla campaign. Jorge Rueda, spokesman for the Rahab Foundation, said that the rental ad went up on July 30 to mark World Day against Trafficking in Persons but was taken down by the company briefly between Monday and Tuesday. The Rahab Foundation re-posted the listing Wednesday morning but by Thursday afternoon it had been removed again.
Rueda told The Tico Times that he hopes the campaign will make tourists think twice about Costa Rica’s reputation as a sex tourist destination. According to figures from Rahab, the majority of sex tourists to Costa Rica come from the United States and Europe, and stay in beach communities like Jacó and Tamarindo.
“If there weren’t any clients, there wouldn’t be this kind of crime,” Rueda said.
Many of those involved in sex trafficking are from other Central American and Caribbean countries, like Nicaragua and the Dominican Republic, according to a 2014 U.S. State Department report on human trafficking in Costa Rica. The same report called child sex trafficking a “serious problem” in Costa Rica.
Sex work is legal in Costa Rica but not for minors under the age of 18. Pimping is also illegal in Costa Rica. According to the country’s penal code, paying or engaging in any kind of exchange for sex with a minor is punishable with between two and 10 years in prison, depending on the age of the child.
“We want these people to know that Costa Rica is not an easy place to look for this,” Rueda said. “Things can go very wrong for them.”