BY Laura Valenciano Arrieta
In recent times, Costa Rica has been forced to face the fact that women here experience horrible sexual violence. I say recently because, even though it is a standard reality, media coverage and social outrage peaked as cases came to light of sexual violence against tourists in our country. It seems as though these cases are worthy of the entire nation’s attention.
A few months ago women residents of Nosara, Guanacaste — a tourist hotspot — began raising their voices against sexual violence and organizing to be each other’s support, to come and hold each other up through their search for justice. They founded Mujeres Unidas Nosara, a collective aimed at warning other women of the sexual violence experienced in the dreamlike location, accompanying victims, and strengthening bonds between women in their community. They successfully got the word out and received responsible coverage from a local digital paper on the repeated use of drugs to disarm the victims. Along with the Nosara collective, women organized in several coastal towns in the province and took to the streets to demand a cease of violence towards women, as were the cases of Sámara Empoderada and Colectiva Mujeres Tama.
Just a few weeks ago as the year began, similar sexual assault accusations were brought to light by two European women travelling in Limón. Diagonally opposite corner of the country from the previous cases. In their case, instead of being driven to their hotel, they were driven to a beach where a group of men awaited them. Response from the local police was violently inconsiderate. It was followed by an absurd “guide for female tourists” focused on how women can reduce the risk of violence by modifying the way we dress, speak or move from point A to B. Response from women and allies in Limón did not take long. The Unidas Talamanca collective deployed efforts and spoke out to the media and directly with public institution representatives.
By now we know too well that sexual violence is not about sex but instead about power and control. The increased violence towards women can be perceived as an attempt to shrink the spaces and places we are allowed to occupy on our own and therefore taking to the streets is powerfully symbolic. When our reaction is to organize and collectively renounce fear, reclaim spaces, and show up for one another, we are sending back a loud message. There is so much that could be said about the blunt inter-linkages of rape culture between these sexual abuse and sexual harassment cases, and the presidential candidacy of a man after being sanctioned by the World Bank Administrative Tribunal for sexual harassment.
As we navigate assault and embarrassing institutional response, women have directed their efforts to strengthen our community response to trauma, building connections and creating support systems. We are knitting networks among older feminist collectives and searching for a way to amplify our voices.