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Violence Against Women in Costa Rica

[vc_row][vc_column][vc_column_text]   *UPDATED In light of recent attacks on females as well as a young man in Brasilito recently, we thought it was appropriate to re-visit this article. Costa Rica is a relatively safe country,  but like anywhere else it



In light of recent attacks on females as well as a young man in Brasilito recently, we thought it was appropriate to re-visit this article.

Costa Rica is a relatively safe country,  but like anywhere else it has its issues and problems.  There is a prevalent toxic machismo culture here, especially in the more rural areas.  In a lot of other Latin countries with the same issues, the complaints are greeted with indifference or dismissed completely.

“There has been a social and cultural expectation in Latin America since the Spanish conquest, that men are entitled to women, and it’s how they express their sense of masculinity,” said Pamela Neumann, an assistant professor of Latin American Studies at Bucknell University who has studied gender violence in Central America. “Crimes against women are simply seen as less important because women are not as important in society.”  In Costa Rica, the government has recently been making moves in the other direction – and offering more support and laws to support women. There is still a long way to go but you need to start somewhere.    

There is a high level of violence against women including rape, murder and human trafficking in Latin America – Honduras, El Salvador, and Colombia have much higher rates than Costa Rica.

According to a Small Arms Survey report, Latin America is home to 14 of the 25 countries with the highest rates of femicide in the world.  Even though Costa Rica comes in fairly low in the rankings with the other countries – it continues to be an area of concern. This has only been amplified by the pandemic. In Guanacaste, the rates of violence against women increased by 10% in the first half of 2020 compared to the same time frame in 2019. High unemployment, more time spent in the home and alcohol are all contributing factors.

Domestic violence appears to be higher in rural areas.  Santa Cruz reports the highest level of these murders. Between 2014 and 2020 thirty-two women were violently murdered in Guanacaste. 19 of those deaths were ruled as femicide – meaning they were murdered only because they were a woman. 

Costa Rica only defines a murder as femicide when it’s by the hand of a current spouse or partner. This does not include casual acquaintances, dates, divorced partners, etc – so the numbers are actually much higher.  Tilarán went from 41 calls for domestic violence to 911 in 2017 to 92 calls in 2020, which means there was an increase of 124%.  Many assaults are not even reported due to fear of further violence or recrimination.

Sometimes this violence starts at home, as children and the only way to escape is to leave the home through work or marrying young. That can also put young women at risk and then facing the same violence from a different source. The pandemic has meant that more time has been spent at home and schooling is far more difficult. Education and hopes for the future are a young girl’s best route out of this cycle. When you have a violent home life – the first opportunity to escape is taken-  which isn’t always the safest or best choice. 

In July 2020, the Costa Rican government passed a law making sexual street harassment a crime punishable with fines and or jail time.  70% of Costa Rican women report experiencing some form of sexual harassment on the street in their life.   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.  It includes fines for verbal comments, whistling and stricter penalties for touching and assault.

This is an issue for all women – including tourists visiting the country.  It is important to research where you are traveling and plan routes ahead of time.  For solo travelers, it is a good plan not to announce you are traveling alone and always heed the local warnings such as not going to the beach at night, being aware of your surroundings, and never leaving your belongings unattended. Also, a great idea is to always advise others of your itinerary and routes, as well as register with your Embassy.

Some places like Santa Teresa have set up Facebook and WhatsApp groups for females who need a safe way back to their accommodation such as Ride para las sirenas – Santa Teresa Costa Rica.

If you are a victim of a crime in Costa Rica it can feel very intimidating and confusing regarding what to do next.  In addition to the pain of the initial crime – reporting and the aftermath can also be overwhelming and difficult. Language barriers can be a big problem as well as not being familiar with your location or landmarks etc.

Calling 9-11 is the usual first step.  You should also contact your country’s Embassy that can assist in translation services, contacting family members, and finding resources.  You can also file a report or “denuncia”.  If you do not speak Spanish it is advisable to find someone to help assist with the translation.

Here are some sample questions asked in a denuncia:

  • ¿Deseo que mi Denuncia sea Confidencial?

    • Do you want your criminal complaint to be presented as confidential?

  • Menor de Edad

    • Are you a minor?

  • Tipo de Identificación

    • Type of Identification: You can choose from an identity or resident card, passport or others.

  • Número de Identificación

    • Identification number from one of these documents

  • Fecha de Nacimiento

    • Date of birth

  • Nombre y Apellidos

    • First and Last Names

  • Dirección

    • Address

  • Numero de Telefono

    • Telephone number

  • Correo Electronico
    • E-mail

  • Descripción de los Hechos

    • Description of the facts.

  • Pruebas o documentos que sustenten los Hechos denunciados.
    • Evidence or documents supporting the presented facts.

  • Si conoce personas que podrían ampliar o aportar otros elementos sobre los hechos denunciados, puede agregarlos aquí. Debe señalar al menos un medio para localizar a las personas citadas en su denuncia.

    • If you know people who could expand or contribute other elements to the reported events, you can add them here. You must identify at least one means to locate the persons named in your accusation.

You can file a report with the Ombudsman’s office as well, you can find the link here. You can also report the incident at the Judicial Investigation Police (OIJ), oij_denuncias@poder-judicial.go.cr; phone 2295-3644; or fax 2295-3114.

Even though this is the land of “Pura Vida” – there is still room for much improvement.  More education, opportunities for women to be financially independent, and access to health services and birth control options are all strong steps forward. It is also most imperative to educate boys at a young age to respect and protect all women as they would their own mother.  

“And one day she discovered that she was fierce and strong, and full of fire and that not even she could hold herself back because her passion burned brighter than her fears.” – Mark Anthony.  



She has worked as an Immigration and Customs officer for 8 years in Canada as well as over 10 years of experience in Social Services in both Canada and the United States. She is also a photographer, animal lover and yoga teacher

Review overview
  • Teresa pino September 8, 2021

    Today OIJ drove mi to the Santa Cruz Tribuna to denuncia a man who stalks me and waits in front of my house. I have his full name and banking info, but the Tribuna won’t make a denuncia because I don’t know where he lives
    What can I do??