San José, Costa Rica, since 1956

Police Combat Sex Crimes

Police this year have arrested 55 fugitives –men and women – charged with or sentenced forcommitting sex crimes. The suspects allegedlyvictimized an official list of at least 134 people, ofwhom about half were children. Thirty-two ofthe arrests resulted from an end-of-the-yearpush against a list of the 100 most wanted sexoffenders in the country.That’s nearly four times more people arrested forsex crimes than last year. The numbers have climbeddramatically since 1999’s grand total of six arrests, theunimpressive opening act of a newly created unitagainst the sexual exploitation of children.After a cash and equipment infusion of $250,000from the U.S. government; an unprecedented $9,000from the British government, more than the British hadever given to Costa Rican law enforcement; computersand bulletproof vests from the National InsuranceInstitute (INS); and a complete restructuring underDirectorate of Special Investigations (DIE) Chief PaúlChávez, police expect this year’s success rate to becomethe new norm.“WE have teeth; we have people, training, commitmentand resources. Now we mean business,” Cháveztold The Tico Times.Manpower expanded from the seven officers in the 1999 sex crimes unit – they shared onecomputer, and none had an official car – tothe 120 officers in the DIE, created inJanuary of this year. Forty of those arededicated full time to fighting sex crimes,though all of them can be called on dutyfor special operations. They have five officialvehicles, seven computers and moreequipment on the way.Chávez said he focuses 60% of histime on sex crimes and divides the remainingtime between fighting juvenile delinquencyand gangs, drug trafficking, autotheft and enforcing copyright laws.Chávez’s appointment in 2003 markedan ideological shift in Costa Rica’s officialsex-crime policy, previously characterizedby ex-President Miguel Angel Rodríguez’sinfamous denial that there was any problemwith the sexual exploitation of childrenhere. Chávez said the official policyduring the Rodríguez administration(1998-2002) was one of denial and attackingthe messenger – specifically BruceHarris, former head of the now-defunctCosta Rican chapter of Casa Alianza, theCentral American children’s rights defensegroup (TT, Dec. 22, 2000).Harris, adept at maneuvering amongthe media, publicized crimes against childrenfor 15 years and led Casa Alianza insubmitting thousands of accusations andlegal complaints against individuals andinstitutions. His work came to an end lastyear when he stepped down from his postin disgrace after admitting to having paidfor sexual favors from a 19-year-oldHonduran prostitute and former CasaAlianza client (TT, Sept. 24, 2004).“It was a loss for the country – no matterwhat Harris did, he was a benefit to thecountry,” Chávez said.HARRIS’ work and the high publicityof child sex crimes in Costa Rica on internationalTV news channels like the BBC,ABC and Spanish networks, as well as thework of national and international organizationslike the nonprofit children’sdefense group Paniamor, the U.N.Children’s Fund (UNICEF), Save theChildren, Defense for Children International(DCI, known here as DNI CostaRica) and others, helped usher in a newwave of official recognition of the issueunder the administration of currentPresident Abel Pacheco.Security Minister Rogelio Ramosappointed Chávez to head the sex crimesunit in 2003. The unit has since trainedunder U.S., U.K. and Spanish police trainersin the investigation of sex crimes,including crimes perpetrated on, or assistedby, the Internet.The DIE sex crime investigators try towork with other branches of law enforcement,a mission that, should it evolvesmoothly, could fill in one of the most importantgaps in the pursuit of sex offenders.MILENA Grillo, director of Paniamor,said she would like to see greater “coordinationbetween the Judicial InvestigationPolice (OIJ) and the (Security Ministry’s)police, because there appears to be a gapbetween their efforts.” She expressed hersatisfaction with the recent jump in arrestsand called on communities to take a moreactive role in the process.“The community needs to report thesecrimes,” she said, because “the essence ofsex crimes is secrecy and concealment.”Keeping the pressure on through continuedreform, Chávez hopes lawmakersnext year will give his officers the powerto seize and use computers, vehicles andother equipment from convicted pimps,pedophiles and corrupting influences onminors.“We expect this effort will be sustainableno matter who wins the next (presidential)election (in February),” he said.

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