A bill that would penalize street sexual harassment was approved Tuesday in a first debate by Costa Rica’s Legislative Assembly.
Law project 20.299, “Law Against Street Sexual Harassment,” would prescribe fines or prison time for people committing acts of sexual harassment in public spaces.
The bill defines sexual harassment as unwanted acts with a sexual connotation carried out in public spaces and that have a negative impact on the victim.
“The priority of the Costa Rican State [is] to prevent, punish and eradicate violence against people assaulted by street sexual harassment,” the legislation reads in part, “with special emphasis on the comprehensive protection of girls, adolescents, women and other historically vulnerable populations.”
Among the penalties are up to a year of prison time for exhibitionism or public masturbation; up to 18 months in prison for producing audiovisual content with sexual connotations without consent; and additional penalties if there are multiple perpetrators or if the victim is a minor.
Under the legislation, catcalling would be subject to fines proportional to the aggressor’s salary.
A 2015 study conducted by the National Institute for Women (INAMU) cited by the bill’s authors found that 70% of Costa Rican women surveyed had faced some form of sexual harassment in public spaces.
Street sexual harassment generates some 7,000 complaints in Costa Rican courts annually, according to statistics from the country’s judicial system.
“That low number of complaints has its counterpart in the fear that women feel regarding their aggressors or because they consider that the system cannot do anything for them,” the bill reads.
Forty-nine lawmakers voted in favor of the bill with zero against. A second debate is expected to occur later this week, after which the legislation could be signed into law.