Academic journal article Electronic Journal of Human Sexuality

Complaints about Commercial Sexual Exploitation of Minors and Sex Crimes Involving Minors in Costa Rica: Temporal and Geographic Trends in a Ten Year Period According to Government Statistics

Academic journal article Electronic Journal of Human Sexuality

Complaints about Commercial Sexual Exploitation of Minors and Sex Crimes Involving Minors in Costa Rica: Temporal and Geographic Trends in a Ten Year Period According to Government Statistics

Article excerpt

Introduction

For many years local and international media have presented Costa Rica as a sexual tourism destination with a serious problem of commercial sexual exploitation of minors, leading to legislation of 4-8 years of jail for people behind programs, campaigns or adds projecting the country as a tourist destination accessible for the commercial sexual exploitation or prostitution of persons of any sex or age (Costa Rican Codigo Penal, Articulo 162 bis). This legislation was approved in a political context that is strongly supportive of the patriarchate (Chamorro-Calvo, 2002; Monge-Najera, 2003). In a larger context, the position of the Costa Rican state has always been in line with what Weitzer (2012) calls the "oppression paradigm", a position of the religious right that has been reflected in biased sexual exploitation statistics used by the State Department in the USA as well as by conservative governments in other parts of the world (Weitzer, 2009; 2012).

Patriarchal legislation, originally uncontested, is still dominant and even international organizations apply it (e.g. PANI-UNICEF, 2009). However, in recent years it has been criticized by the scientific community and by some writers within the legal community, as well as by the people more directly involved, the sex workers themselves. In a series of books, Kempadoo and colleagues review a large mass of scientific literature concluding that the simplistic image used by legislators is inadequate (Kempadoo, Sanghera & Pattanaik, 2011).

The paradigm fails to reflect the variety of sexual activities associated with the exchange of money and other resources, in which forced prostitution and exploitation are not the rule, opposite to the view often presented in the media (Kempadoo & Doezema, 1998; Kempadoo, Sanghera & Pattanaik, 2011). The situation is similar in Costa Rica, where despite the stereotype, recent field studies concluded that women providing sexual services are mostly adults who chose that activity, not exploited minors or forced prostitutes (Monge-Najera, Rojas, Morales & Ramirez, 2009; Monge-Najera & Vega, 2011; Rivers-Moore, 2009, 2010, 2011, 2012, 2013),

The associated "doctrine of superior interest" has also been criticized from the legal point of view. According to Viola (2013), this doctrine, which considers that humans are "children" until one day before their 18th birthday, violates several principles, among them, the right of minors to construct their own judgments and manifest their opinion; and their right to progressive autonomy according to the development of their faculties. The position presented by Viola is supported by research too numerous to cite here but reviewed by Levine (2002). Furthermore, Couso (2009) wrote that the establishment of a particular age for sexual consent is inadequate, adding that there is a need to recognize the possibility of proving an "expression of autonomous sexuality" in those cases that lack evidence of coactions or manipulation of adolescents. This position is not reflected in any way in Costa Rican legislation, which is based exclusively on the superior interest doctrine. In fact, Costa Rican law defines a series of unlawful conducts that, according to Monge and Issa (1999), undermine freedom and the integrity of sexual determination, and in the case of minors, damages their psyco-sexual development and personal autonomy (Munoz, 2002).

According to Couso (2009), the state exposes adolescents to stigmatization and unjustified criminalization by applying -without scientific justification-legislation that has unlimited intromission in youthful development, a position documented also by Levine (2002). Independently of their age, sex workers can be considered victims without personal autonomy, for example by the Coalition Against Trafficking in Women (Brunovskis & Surtees, 2010), or as a complex group ranging from free-will contractors to victims, as done for example by the Global Alliance Against Traffic in Women (Kempadoo & Doezema, 1998; Outshoorn, 2004). …

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