Why Now: Oscar Arias accusers explain why they waited to come forward
Óscar Arias Sánchez, 78, a Nobel Peace Prize laureate and two-term Costa Rican president, has been accused of sexual assault by nine women.
The accounts of the women who have come forward date from the mid-1980s through 2015. In interviews with The New York Times, The Tico Times, The Washington Post, Semanario Universidad and ameliarueda.com, each woman has explained a question that often circles around survivors who come forward with their alleged assault years after it occurred: “Why now?”
To help other women who could be at risk
1. Alexandra Arce von Herold, 34, submitted the first allegation that inspired many of the stories that followed. According to her criminal complaint, which was filed on Feb. 4 and reviewed by The Tico Times, the alleged assault occurred in 2014 when Arce had gone to Arias’s home for her activism work, with an objective to enlist his support against illegal weapons.
Arias has “categorically” denied allegations of sexual assault, saying he has “never acted in a way that disrespected the will of any woman,” and has declined to comment on specific allegations on the recommendations of his lawyer.
According to The New York Times, Arce decided to come forward after seeing gymnasts testify against United States Olympic team doctor Larry Nassar last year. She said she had not come forward previously because, before the #metoo movement, the notion of making allegations sexual assault against someone in such a powerful position — much less a former president — seemed unimaginable.
“All the other women, that did, that helped me. So I thought maybe, maybe, I can help other people too,” Arce said in an interview with The New York Times. She said that helping other young activists who work with Arias was worth the risk.
“It’s the right thing to do,” she said, “even if it destroys me.”
To let people know no matter who you are or what you are known for, sexual harassment is never okay
2. Emma Daly was working as a reporter covering Central America for the Tico Times and Reuters when she was allegedly assaulted by Arias in 1990. According to The Washington Post, Daly did not consider filing a complaint against Arias “because of how common behavior like that was in Central America at the time.” Daly says Arias’s alleged behavior was not a secret, even in the 1990s.
“I think they would have laughed at me for complaining about just being touched by some guy,” Daly told The Tico Times. She added that many women in Costa Rica have similar experiences with “men of his age.”
Daly, who is now the head of communications for Human Rights Watch, told The Washington Post that she came forward after thinking about the incident during the rise of the #MeToo movement. She felt she was in a privileged position and that it was important for her to speak out.
She said that, while it is difficult to balance Arias’s alleged behavior with the positive impacts from his professional work, it doesn’t give him a pass to mistreat people.
To keep those in powerful positions accountable for their actions
3. Eleanora “Nono” Antillon was 35 years old and worked in communications for the National Liberation Party as an advisor to Arias when she was allegedly assaulted.
Antillion told La Nación that she did not speak publicly on the matter prior to recently “because society is not ready to believe us. […] I would never have been able to make myself heard at that time, and the truth is that now it seems I owed this to myself.”
“It gave me fury, impotence, disgust, shame, to see him live on a throne of honesty, of ethics, as a great politician, as a Peace Prize winner.”
To inspire other victims of sexual assault to speak out and get support
4. Yazmín Morales, a former Miss Costa Rica, was allegedly assaulted by Arias in his study in 2015. She said she decided to come forward with her account after seeing Arce’s story. In an interview with The New York Times, she said she was motivated by Arce and the #MeToo movement.
“I thought that I should be brave because I could see that this was habitual behavior,” she said.
Morales said that when she tried to get legal advice for her assault accusation, three lawyers had advised her against it. After the Arce allegations broke, she decided to try again, going through two lawyers before finding someone who would represent her.
To stand with other victims
As other women have come forward, many have cited a desire to stand in solidarity with other survivors.
5. Carina A. Black is a 52-year-old political scientist at the University of Nevada, Reno.
Arias allegedly tried to grope and kiss her when he visited the University as a speaker in 1998. “I pushed him, and I smacked him in the face,” she said in an interview with The New York Times. She said that because she was not injured, it never occurred to her to file a report. She decided to tell her story now so people would believe Arce, the first accuser.
“When I heard about the nuclear physicist’s story last Tuesday, I knew almost immediately that I had to support her in her efforts to make the truth known,” Black said in a statement. “I am adding my voice to what I am certain is rising number of women against Mr. Arias and against sexual violence in general.”
She added that the moment represents an opportunity to begin conversation in both our public and private spheres.
6. Marta Araya Marroni worked as a coordinator of editorial projects at Librería Internacional, Costa Rica’s largest bookstore chain. She accused Arias of making multiple unwanted sexual advances over the course of several weeks in 2012 during her employment. She told The Tico Times that she wanted to publicize her story in support of the other women who have come forward.
“I have no personal need to [speak out],” she said. “But I think it’s useful to support other women who people aren’t believing. You don’t have to be young or sexy or dress provocatively for this to happen. […] It disgusts me a lot that people always think these are lies.”
7. Nuria Badilla, a human rights activist, told the BBC that in 1999, Arias had allegedly groped her while they were sharing a table during a public activity in San Jose. She said she shared her account to stand with other victims.
8. Pilar Baeza Montes de Oca, a real estate entrepreneur, came forward 11 years after her alleged assault in Arias’ home in 2008. She had come to the house with a journalist friend who had wanted her to meet Arias. Like the allegations of many of the other women, she said Arias was kind and charming until he insisted himself upon the woman, groping and touching her.
9. Patricia Volio García, a personal trainer of Arias, said she was harassed by him during their training sessions 15 years ago. She said she also came forward to support the cases of the other women.
Why survivors wait to come forward
Larissa Arroyo, a human-rights lawyer and director of non-profit Asociación Ciudadana Acceder, explains that there are multiple reasons why a woman might wait to come forward with allegations of sexual misconduct. The primary reason, she says, is that survivors might feel shame and expect to be stigmatized. Arroyo says that women will suddenly talk about their cases when they begin to identify their alleged sexual assault as a blameworthy act.
Arroyo adds that women often bring their allegations to light is to share their voice. In Arias’s case, she says it can help to know that other women have allegedly suffered similar abuses.
“It makes a waterfall effect,” she explains.
Her biggest advice is that while it is important to report allegations, what matters most is the survivors’ well-being.
Arroyo says it’s important to understand the process of coming forward, realizing that some people may respond with criticism. She asks victims to think about if that process will ultimately help or hurt them in dealing with their situation.
Arroyo explains that no matter how big or small the allegation, everyone should have a right to go through a formal process. She hopes current events shine a spotlight on the issues so that everyone becomes more education on women’s rights.
Katherine Stanley, Managing Editor of The Tico Times, worked in the Office of the President during Oscar Arias’ second presidency and provided English-language speechwriting services for Arias. She has recused herself from all reporting and editorial decisions for any story involving Arias, including this one.
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