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Costa Rica enacts law against street sexual harassment

August 10, 2020

Costa Rica on Monday put into effect a law that criminalizes street sexual harassment and punishes it with jail terms and fines.

“It is a great regulatory change that helps us to protect mainly women, who will travel free from sexual harassment, who feel safe and free,” said President Carlos Alvarado when signing the law that has been approved by the Legislative Assembly.

Alvarado added that “for men, (the law is) a call to exercise a new masculinity that respects the integrity of women.”

The new law meets a long-standing demand from organizations that claim women cannot move freely on the streets and public transport without being subjected to comments of sexual content or groping.

“With this signature, we begin to pay off the historical debt of the State and of society with the vast majority of women who have suffered this form of violence in public spaces since we were children,” said Patricia Mora, Minister of Women’s Affairs, at the signing ceremony.

Under the new law, anyone who takes photos or videos with sexual intentions in public places can be punished with prison terms of one year to a year and a half. The penalty may increase to two years if the material is shared.

It also imposes a six-month jail sentence on anyone who masturbates or exposes their genitals in public places.

Someone who follows or corners another person for sexual purposes may be punished with eight months to one year in prison.

Meanwhile, the use of words, noises or gestures with a non-consensual sexual purposes toward another person is punished by fines.

Critics say it is difficult to accuse someone for violating the law’s provisions, while women’s organizations hope that the prospect of punishment will motivate a behavior change on the part of men.

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