The Rapes Are Real, But Prosecution Elusive
A local man charged with having raped two women and suspected of assaulting several others, including a 16-year-old girl, continues to walk the streets and beaches of the Caribbean town of Puerto Viejo, according to victims and locals.
All thirteen Puerto Viejo residents interviewed by The Tico Times for this story believe this one man is the rapist, although most refused to have their names used for fear of reprisals, from the man’s powerful family or the suspect himself. One, said it was too risky to talk too much in a small town.
“He’s a big guy, he’s scary, and he knows where we live,” she said.
Each of the attacks took place around the same location and under similar circumstances between 2003 and today.
In each, the rapist used the same strategy: He approached the victims from behind while walking along an isolated stretch of beach on Playa Chiquita, covered their heads with a bag and choked them. Only one victim has claimed to have actually seen his face. In several of these cases, the victims have said, the rapist asked the same questions and made the same threats. He has also been very careful not to leave any physical evidence, using a condom and gloves during the assaults.
The suspect was sentenced in 1997 to 13 years in prison for rape, but was released for good behavior after having served only six years. And when a Chilean woman who was attacked on the beach in 2003 named him as the attacker, he served an additional eight months in prison pending trial. At the trial, the judges ruled that the evidence was inconclusive, and he was released.
Since then, at least five more women have reported rapes or attempted rapes under similar circumstances.
A Nicaraguan woman who was attacked declined to press charges against this man because she was certain her aggressor would kill her, according to residents.
Another, “Beth,” a U.S. citizen living in Puerto Viejo, was raped in August 2007 and named the same man as her attacker.
According to Beth, a further traumatizing element of the rapist’s attack consisted of his asking questions and making threats.
“He asked me my name, where I was from and where I hid my money,” she said. “Then he told me he was going to kill me, but rape me first.”
She has decided to come forward and tell her story, so that it may push the judicial system to resolve her case and make further investigations into rape cases in the area and Costa Rica in general.
Seven months later, in March 2008, two more women claimed they were raped, both within a week of each other.
The first of these victims was a 16-year-old girl who was visiting the area with her parents when she was attacked in the middle of the day in the same spot as Beth. Her parents rushed her back to San José for medical examinations, and although it was determined that she had been raped, no physical evidence linking the suspect to the crime was found.
Though reluctant to share the traumatic experience at first, the 16-year-old opened up when she and Beth met last week to discuss their cases. According to Beth, when she first spoke to the young victim and described her own experience, the girl kept repeating “the same thing happened to (me).”
Five days after the attack on the girl, a Brazilian woman, “Clara,” was walking the same stretch of beach. She was attacked from behind in the same way as the others.
When attacked, she struggled as best she could, though she was thrown to the ground.
According to her friend and legal adviser, “Oscar,” the attacker pinned her down and tried to pry her legs open. She struggled so violently that he gave up and ran away, taking with him the sole valuable she had on her: her wedding ring.
Later that night she picked the suspect out of a line-up and recounted what had happened to the Judicial Investigation Police (OIJ). The suspect was in jail for 24 hours and then released pending trial, with some restrictions: He is required to appear before the court every 15 days and prohibited from approaching the victim.
Oscar is an experienced lawyer, and is helping both Clara and Beth pursue their cases, although he is reluctant to become officially involved for fear of being targeted. He says the difficulty with Clara’s case is that, after the facts were investigated, the prosecutors decided to charge the suspect with robbery instead of attempted rape since he ultimately only made off with the ring.
“He was in prison for rape not robbery. He doesn’t have a history of robbery, he has a history of rape,” said a frustrated Beth. “And why would you rob someone on the beach who only has a towel and a book?”
On May 13 Clara will have the opportunity to present her case in front of three judges at a hearing in Bribrí. She plans to tell the entire story and appeal for them to change the charge.
Pursuit of Justice
Oscar is suggesting that Clara and Beth combine their cases and present them to the judges because he believes that unless the similarity of the attacks is pointed out, Beth’s case will likely go nowhere.
According to the OIJ in Bribrí, Beth’s case was dismissed for lack of evidence. However, one new piece of evidence that may help push Beth’s case forward was her discovery that a phone call was made from her cell phone, stolen by the rapist, to the suspect’s mother the day she was raped.
“The problem is that with rape cases, it is always difficult to accumulate solid evidence,” said one OIJ official. “Especially serial rapists, who are very careful not to leave anything linking them to the crime.”
He said that all the women raped said the suspect’s voice was that of a black man, but “that doesn’t prove anything to a judge, because people can alter their voices.”
Despite the entire town being upset about the rapes, residents say it is hard to accuse someone who is a part of that community.
“It’s a small community,” said Beth. “You see the person who raped you, you see the father, and you just don’t want to believe he did this to you, it’s just too hard. Many people are raped in this world but not many see the rapist afterwards. I didn’t want to believe it was him.”
Oscar emphasized that despite the horror of the situation, having suspicions isn’t enough. In his experience, he said very few rape cases make it past the investigation stage because of lack of evidence.
“(Allegations have) to be backed up by evidence,” he said. “And after such long periods of time, evidence losses its integrity.”
Judicial officials agree with Oscar, and admit that despite having strong suspicions about the same man, they cannot act without substantial evidence.
“I think the most prominent factor is that all the rapes were committed the same way,” said one. “Therefore, if we figure out one of the cases, it should link the suspect to all of them.”
This is precisely what Oscar hopes Beth and Clara can do.
“I strongly believe that if the women unite their cases and present them in such a manner to the judges, the rapist will be convicted and put in jail,” said Oscar.
Beth, a year and a half after her traumatic experience, is still waiting for that to happen.
“I have hope,” she said. “I have hope that I’ll have closure and he’ll go away to jail. … He’s still a human being but he deserves to be punished. And he will.”
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