No menu items!


HomeTopicsExpat LivingLandmark Sexual Harassment Case Sparks Change in Costa Rica's Laws 

Landmark Sexual Harassment Case Sparks Change in Costa Rica’s Laws 

Years ago I was walking down a street of the city with my Tico friend Edwin. He was in his 30s, married with two young sons. He was a college grad, an excellent poker player and had a good job in sales. On two occasions along the same block, I observed Edwin walk a couple quick steps ahead of me, and then lean forward to say something in the ear of an attractive young woman walking toward us. These brief encounters unfolded in front of me; Neither woman responded. Both looked displeased.

I asked him if he knew either of the women. He smiled and informed me that no, he did not know them. He was just doing ‘piropos’. A loose definition of a ‘piropo’ is a pick-up line or chat opening line. Unfortunately, what my friend did, while common at the time, looked more like a verbal assault than an icebreaker at a social gathering. The self-declared right of men to make uninvited comments or simply hiss at young women passing by reflected the machista mentality prevalent here in decades past.

I explained to my friend that there was little to be gained by aggressively approaching a young woman walking alone and minding her own business. Nobody likes their space suddenly invaded in public, I told him. He said it was cultural. I said doing what he did showed a lack of class. There was a line between flirtation and harassment that he was crossing.

He said I didn’t understand. And so it was until 2010. Then came a sexual harassment case involving a high-ranking government minister from one of Costa Rica’s most prominent families. The woman claiming harassment, as is often the case, worked under him.

Her accusations ranged from unwanted touching, to weekend trip invitations to being called “muñeca”. At first the charges were dismissed but later the well connected official was ordered to pay a 10 Million colon fine (about $22,000 USD). And that would have been that, except there was enough backlash to poke the lethargic Costa Rica legislature into responding. In 2010 the Ley Contra El Hostigamiento Sexual En El Empleo y La Docencia (Law Against Sexual Harassment in the Workplace and Schools) was made official.

This was expanded in 2020 to include all public places. Now it is common to see a sign in gyms and supermarkets and restaurants indicating that this law is taken seriously in these places. Anyone who has raised a daughter here should cheer this law on. Beyond that, it is a victory for basic human decency and respect toward others.

Of course, the machista mentality is still around. There are unreported cases, and still plenty of young men who think making a sexually charged comment toward a woman on the street is a form of courtship. But it is no longer considered cultural or cool or acceptable by the vast majority. As for my friend Edwin– not long after that day I moved to another area of the country and lost track of him. Hopefully, he got the memo.

Weekly Recap

Costa Rica Coffee Maker Chorreador
Costa Rica Coffee Maker Chorreador
Costa Rica Travel Insurance
Costa Rica Rocking Chait

Latest Articles