San José, Costa Rica, since 1956
Public sector

In Costa Rica, the top targets of sexual harassment complaints in the public sector are doctors, teachers and cops

More Costa Rican women are coming forward to report sexual harassment at public agencies than in the past, according to Liliana Castro, director of women’s issues at the Ombudsman’s Office. Castro appeared Thursday at the Legislative Assembly‘s Commission on Women’s Issues, which is currently gathering research on sexual harassment claims in the public sector.

According to the Ombudsman’s Office, the number of complaints at public agencies increased from 82 in 2008 to 276 in 2011. The top targets of those complaints were doctors, teachers and police at the Social Security System, Education Ministry and Public Security Ministry, respectively. Most of the cases – 30 percent – were filed against co-workers, while complaints against higher-ranking employees accounted for 26 percent of the total.

The findings are part of a study by the Ombudsman’s Office that began last year. Initial results cover 2008 to 2011, Castro said.

“The Ombudsman’s Office cannot conclude that the number of alleged perpetrators has increased; rather, we believe that more women feel comfortable [reporting harassment],” she said.

The agency’s research also mentions complaints against women. Complaints against men accounted for 91 percent of the total during the reviewed period, and while no complaints were filed against women in 2008, there were 16 in 2011, or 9 percent of the total, the report noted.

By province, the largest number of complaints was registered in San José (45 percent), followed by Alajuela (12 percent) and Puntarenas (11 percent).

Castro told lawmakers that her office currently is collecting data for 2012-2014, but as of this week, they have received 25 complaints this year.

Ruling Citizen Action Party legislator Emilia Molina Cruz said at the hearing that lawmakers plan to follow up at the Labor Ministry to seek a full report on actions that have been taken regarding the complaints.

“This investigation is just the Ombudsman’s Office’s initial effort to analyze the problem of sexual harassment in the public sector,” Castro said.

Earlier this year, Broad Front Party lawmaker Ronal Vargas Araya resigned after claiming he needed medical treatment for a severe health problem. It was later discovered, however, that party leaders had asked Vargas to quit after finding out he would face criminal charges for allegedly sexually harassing an office assistant.

Contact L. Arias at larias@ticotimes.net

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