San José, Costa Rica, since 1956
Sex tourism

Costa Rica identifies sex predators with online marketing campaign

Costa Rica’s Tourism Ministry and PANIAMOR Foundation on Wednesday disclosed the first results of an online strategy to fight Costa Rica’s image as a child sex tourism destination.

The campaign “Unforgettable Costa Rica” consists of a website that in the past four months has been promoted in dating websites and sex forums using fake accounts. Posts and messages invite users to visit the website to find “the youngest girls,” aiming to attract sex predators.

Clicking on one of these links takes the person to a website that looks like a conventional hotel or travel site displaying usual links to accommodations, dining & nightlife, spa & wellness, and others including one of “Meet the girls.”

The links display images of a prison with messages warning that people engaging in sexual activities with minors will be prosecuted, and that a sex trip to Costa Rica could end up in prison sentences if they pay for sex with underage persons.

PANIAMOR Executive Director Milena Grillo said efforts to promote the website were conducted site-by-site, creating fake user accounts to post messages with invitations to visit the site. The goal is to inform as many people as possible that engaging in sexual relations with people under 18 is a crime in Costa Rica, she said.

Costa Rica’s Vice President Ana Helena Chacón said child sexual exploitation is an unacceptable practice that now is being comprehensively addressed.

“It is important for people to know that it is a crime that is punished with prison sentences here,” Chacón said.

One of the campaign’s most important features is that the website records visitors’ information, and officials on Wednesday reported it has received visits from more than 100 countries.

“This is actually a very troubling statistic as it shows that interests in sex with underage people spreads worldwide,” the vice president said.

Geographic and other information of people accessing the website will be used to profile sex predators searching for information about underage sex in Costa Rica. Data also will be used to design strategies to fight sex tourism and will be sent to government agencies at all of the country’s detected.

“If we want to keep Costa Rica as a place that is worth visiting, we need to eradicate those who come here for the wrong reasons,” Chacón said.

The guerilla marketing campaign was developed by local ad agency Garnier/BBDO and also has the support of the Costa Rica Tourism Board and National Tourism Chamber.

Some 450 local tourism businesses committed to support the fight against child sexual exploitation and starting Thursday they are promoting the campaign on their websites and among their clients.

Contact L. Arias at larias@ticotimes.net

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Ken Morris

Prompted by another article about this, I looked at the website, which now that I have I guess puts me on some authority’s list of predators. Gee thanks.

However, depending upon how much money is being paid for this campaign, I don’t have a serious problem with it. If some authority decided to go after illegal weapons sales by creating a phony website offering unregistered guns for sale, I’d be OK with that. Sure, it’s entrapment, but then again some of those attracted to the website probably would be looking for illegal weapons. As long as there’s more evidence for arrest than stumbling across a website, and due process after arrest, I don’t have a problem with authorities making a list of possible suspects.

The main concern is that there’s next to no evidence of pedephile tourists coming to Costa Rica. Sure, every once in awhile one is caught–and presumably there are many others for each one apprehended–but frankly years go by without a single known incident. Since there’s so little evidence of sex tourists targeting children, there isn’t much justification for spending a lot of money countering the alleged practice.

Related, I seriously doubt that the predators need to be informed that paid sex with those under 18 is illegal. I think they are well aware of this. In fact, not a few have a more sophisticated knowledge of the law than the website lets on. They know that the age of consent is 15, as long as the sex partner isn’t paid, and exploit that legal opening. (Although I heard this from a gringo now in Nicaragua, where most of those attracted to sex with minors have long ago fled.)

There is also the possibility that campaigns like this have at least two counterproductive consequences. One is that it is insulting to foreigners to have Costa Rica disseminate propaganda implying that many of us are pedephiles. It isn’t very nice to foist this stereoptype on us. The other is that it may deflect attention away from the real pedephiles in the country, most of whom are Ticos.

However, if some people want to create a bogus website like this one and don’t waste a lot of money on it, I don’t object. Maybe, who knows, it will dissuade a pedephile or two and catch a third one. The problem isn’t nonexistent. However, we’re talking about one or two, maybe three, every once in awhile, not exactly a horde.

By contrast, the authorities estimate that there are around 350,000 illegal weapons in Costa Rica–weapons that sometimes are used to kill children–and don’t bother with a bogus website to tackle this problem.

So priorities are a concern. But given that concern, I don’t mind a little attention being devoted to this low-priority issue.

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Fernando Gerdano

This is a huge problem here. Having sex with under age children is part of the culture and they need to work to fix that! They are trying to blame others for their own deep seeded cultural problem. Good job..

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Mark Kahle

The goal is to inform as many people as possible that engaging in sexual relations with people under 18 is a crime in Costa Rica, she said.

Then why do I see so very many 15-18 year olds walking around with big round bellies, giving birth and afterwards walking down the street with their obviously older sperm donor ? Funny how the law does not apply to them……

The government here is as wrong as ever… the tourists will do exactly what the locals tell them they can get away with… not more, not less.

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