Sex tourism a driver for human trafficking in Costa Rica, says foundation

June 23, 2014

Scenic beaches and cold bottles of Imperial pervade Costa Rica’s image as a world-renowned tourist destination. But a darker side lurks behind the pura vida.

Sex tourism, sometimes involving minors, has become a seedier corner of the country’s tourism industry. But a new book released Thursday by the Rahab Foundation, a Costa Rican organization dedicated to fighting human trafficking, hopes to shine light on the ordeal of victims of human trafficking in Costa Rica. “Volver a Creer,” or Believe Again, is a collection of stories from victims about their journeys back to recovery.

The release event at the British ambassador’s residence in Escazú coincided with a four-day global conference in London chaired by Hollywood star Angelina Jolie and British Foreign Secretary William Hague dedicated to ending sexual violence and rape as a weapon in conflict zones.

“We don’t want Costa Rica to be promoted as a sex tourism destination,” said Rahab Foundation director and founder Mariliana Morales. “We want a country where couples come for their honeymoon. We don’t want planes landing here full of pedophiles to look for little girls and boys.”

Morales noted that Costa Rica does not suffer the same rates of sexual exploitation or slavery as some countries, including India, but she hoped the book would focus on the human stories behind the repugnant trade.

The director said that victims often come from Colombia, the Dominican Republic and Nicaragua. In the case of the Dominican Republic, Morales explained that women and young girls are often trafficked into the country and quickly granted legal status through sham marriages or other means.

Trafficking victims, often young people, are lured by false promises of employment and find themselves trapped by their captors.

However, 70 percent of the center’s services are for Costa Ricans, according to 2013 figures from the Rahab Foundation.

“No one wants to believe that this is happening in communities here [in Costa Rica]; they’d rather think of it as a transnational problem. But it’s important to not forget this is happening to Costa Ricans and those of other nationalities looking for a better life,” said British Ambassador Sharon Campbell.

Morales stressed that foreign tourists are not the only drivers of human trafficking for the sex trade. Ticos are also consuming these services.

On June 4, a division of the Judicial Investigation Police dedicated to human trafficking reported the arrest of a 50-year-old man in Guápiles for allegedly running a prostitution ring of 17 women aged 20 to 30, the majority of whom were from the Dominican Republic and Nicaragua.

The director of Rahab said that the foundation works with police, training them to recognize signs of human trafficking and attend to victims. The foundation offers counseling and job training for human trafficking victims to help them successfully reintegrate into society.

The ambassador said that there are many actors who need to be involved in the fight to end human trafficking, including the Education Ministry, the police, NGOs and private corporate social responsibility programs.

“We all have our own part to play in eradicating human trafficking,” Campbell said.

AFP contributed to this article.

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