[Note: All links in Spanish]
The sentencing of a 39 year old cabinet-maker to four and a half years of prison for sexually assaulting a woman during the daytime by touching her genitals in public has divided Costa Rica: some applaud this decision, while others believe it points to a failed justice system and a third group considers it excessive.
The victim, a 25 year old bank employee, had her buttocks groped in a park, then was followed by the assaulter down several streets where he then lifted her skirt and fondled her crotch. The victim reported the assault and her attacker was placed in custody.
With the testimony of several witnesses, including a woman who hit the attacker repeatedly with an umbrella and then kicked him after seeing him assault the victim, the judges considered that a four year prison sentence was a fitting punishment, but since he was under parole for illegal possession of weapons, six extra months were added.
Women and men in the Costa Rican social media sphere have expressed support for this decision and their full approval, and many of them have identified with the victim and have come forward to tell their own stories of the sexual harassment, abuse and disrespect they have received from men on the streets.
Echoes and support
In popular music forum 89dB, Angelica wrote “Look but Don't Touch“, about how she had her breasts and buttocks fondled in the streets by strange men, at a very young age:
Es lo más cerca que he estado de una violación. Aunque jamás podría equiparar esas experiencias a un crimen sexual en su sentido más vil, sí creo que fueron agresiones que merecían sanción. Se sintió aterrador, desde el hecho de verme sorprendida en los escenarios más cotidianos y en buena teoría seguros, hasta la frustración de presenciar con cuánta facilidad los antisociales lograban salirse con la suya.
Ladybug77 commented on the post about how she explained to her boyfriend what the feeling of being inappropriately touched on the street was like, when he told her about how he was driving and the driver in front backed up, bumped his car and then just hit the gas pedal and left:
Y estaba, varias horas después, todavía con cólera, con ganas de ir a pegarle, de buscarlo, con chicha, con impotencia y la cabeza no paraba de darle vueltas al asunto… pero no podía hacer nada.
Yo lo único que acaté a decirle fue que esa sensación que el tenía de sentir que invadieron su espacio, de no poder hacer nada, de “por qué no dije, o por qué no hice…” era talvez lo más parecido que él iba a estar en toda su vida a lo que siente una mujer cuando algún viejo imbécil le toca las tetas o el culo en la calle…
Y aún así se queda corto!
And there he was, several hours later, still feeling angry, wanting to run after the guy and hit him, to find him, in a foul mood, feeling impotent and these thoughts were just going round and round in his head… but he couldn't do anything about it.
The only thing I could think of saying was that the feeling of having his space invaded, of not being able to do anything about it, the “I should've said this or I should've done that…” it was perhaps the closest he would ever be in his life to feeling what a woman goes through when an asshole touches her breasts or ass on the street…
And it would still fall short!
Marqoadrian adds a different perspective to the discussion: he describes a similar story to those above, but with the difference that he was a 17 year old boy who was sexually assaulted in a crowded public bus:
El mae bajó la mano y siguió viendo hacia afuera como si nada hubiera pasado. Tengo muchas fobias, soy muy miedoso y no dije nada. Me puse rojo y hasta se me llenaron los ojos de lágrimas. Me sentí tan solo, atacado e impotente que simplemente me quedé como un estúpido esperando que alguien me defendiera.
On fairness and justice
Certain people are dissatisfied with the prison sentence: some believe that it mocks justice and points out a broken system where a man gets sent to jail for touching a woman inappropriately, but with other recent corruption scandals and crimes involving ex presidents or foreigners with money, the justice system refuses to hand out strong sentences.
Radio Fides, a local religious radio station asked on Twitter if people considered it “fair” to send a man to jail for touching a woman when more serious crimes go unpunished. On Facebook, they asked for feedback from followers, and the divided opinions were apparent on that single comment thread: people insisted that the woman had been dressed provocatively, others that the attacker was an innocent culprit now painted by the media like a pervert, some that it was surprising that other recent financial crimes or corruption had passed almost unpunished and yet another group stated that even though more serious crimes go unpunished, that doesn't mean this one should go the same way.
On her blog, Twitter user @titabobra replies to those who think that 6 months would've been enough of a sentence for the attacker:
Pero me tiene decepcionada el comentario de muchos hombres que lo consideran exagerado que con 6 meses bastaba, antes de escribir este post lo hablaba con mi mamá y ella me decía que los hombres que pensaban en que era una pena exagerada es porque o lo han hecho o son capaces de hacerlo ( a mi no me reclamen, la que estudio psicología fue ella) y también me decía algo muy fuerte, que lo mejor que le pudo pasar a ese señor (al condenado) fue que lo metieran en la cárcel, si se queda sin castigo, la próxima vez es capaz de violar a una mujer.
These are some of the opinions seen on Twitter:
Tribunal comprobó dádivas a Rodríguez por $819.000 y no esta en la carcel… y a un mae x tocar unas nalgas lo meten 4 años… chingo de ley
David Sibaja (@sibajad):
Tocar nalgas: 5 años de Carcel, robarse $8 MM: no tiene precio.
Manuel Quirós (@manuelqc12) also complains about the unfairness of the sentence, but has a more relevant point of comparison:
Ooook a un mae le dan 4 años de cárcel x tocar una doña… Pero otros las asaltan, violan y hasta algo peor y no les hacen ni papa…
Por tocar moñitos(jejeje)-4 años de cárcel, por traficar droga-Casa por cárcel. De verdad que la leyes en esta país son una mierda.
Sexual harassment not perceived as a crime
Sadly, @Chuckgtz's opinion that sexually assaulting a woman is not a serious crime is somewhat common. Some men have expressed online that women getting groped or felt up by men is a normal and sometimes even welcomed situation, like Patote expressed in Costa Rica Forum by posting a picture of a woman in a miniskirt and writing “women are also guilty, sometimes you see things like this on the street.”
Pozuelo in 89dB believes that most women actually enjoy vulgar name-calling on the street:
A lo que voy es que cierto, muchísimos casos se dan con mujeres que no les agrada ni siquiera que les digan “uuy macha”… Pero hay otra gran mayoría de mujeres que les encanta que les digan que le chupan todo, que si esos chanchos comen guineo, etc etc etc…
David on the comment thread of @titabobra's post summarizes most of the perspectives she criticizes: he establishes harassment as part of the culture, he blames the women, suggest they enjoy sexual abuse and even states that making catcalling a crime would go against freedom of speech.
1984 in 89dB points out the common misconceptions about these crimes: that it happens to easy women in states of undress, or when their boobs or asses are larger than the norm, that those who commit sexual assault of this type are all hormone ridden young men and that the abuse only happens to women. And then adds an offhand comment to the fact that even the camera person of the TV news channel seemed to believe that making close up shots of the victim's behind would illustrate the real reason of why she was assaulted.