Costa Rica’s Legislative Assembly on Tuesday passed a law that criminalizes street sexual harassment and punishes it with prison terms and fines.
The Legislative Assembly approved the “Law Against Street Sexual Harassment” in a second and final debate with 47 votes in favor and none against. Ten deputies abstained from the vote.
The initiative, promoted by several parties, awaits ratification from President Carlos Alvarado and publication in official government newspaper La Gaceta to enter into force.
“I thank Congress and all the women who worked to make this initiative possible,” President Alvarado said. “[It] will soon become law and will contribute to building a more respectful society.”
With the new law, anyone convicted of taking photos or videos with sexual intent in public places can be punished with prison terms of one year to one-and-a-half years. The sentence may be increased to two years if the material is shared with others.
Likewise, it imposes a six-month prison sentence those convicted of masturbating or exposing their genitals in public places.
Anyone who follows or corners another person without consent for sexual purposes may be punished with eight months to one year in prison.
Meanwhile, the use of words, noises, whistles, gasps or gestures with a sexual intent toward another person is punishable with a fine.
The Minister for Women’s Affairs, Patricia Mora, celebrated the legislation, which recognizes street harassment as a crime.
“Street sexual harassment is not harmless; it is violence against women and their bodies, and we can no longer continue to justify, naturalize or minimize this macho and everyday behavior,” Mora said in a statement released after the vote.
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.