Embassy staffers put out another misleading report on sex trafficking

The U.S. State Department came out with its annual human trafficking report Thursday, and once again the summary involving Costa Rica is internally inconsistent.

As in many prior year reports, the summary, believed prepared locally by U.S. Embassy staffers, overlooked the fact that consensual prostitution is not penalized in Costa Rica. A.M. Costa Rica has brought this omission to the attention of embassy staffers for years with no results.

Consequently the distinction between so-called sex trafficking and the movement of entrepreneurial individuals is blurred. Also blurred is the distinction between coerced prostitution and voluntary prostitution.

The report says that child sex tourism is a serious problem, with child sex tourists arriving mostly from the United States and Europe. But it also notes that “Despite an identified child sex tourism problem, the government did not prosecute or convict any child sex tourists or other individuals who purchased commercial sex acts from children, although the government did collaborate with international partners to  restrict entry to registered sex offenders.”

As A.M. Costa Rica has reported in the past, the largest number of child sex cases involve family members or family friends, but these crimes are not within the scope of the State Department report.

The report covers 2015 but embassy staffers have overlooked the flood of Cuban migrants and those from other countries who have accumulated in and passed through Costa Rica toward the end of the year.

The Costa Rica’s government’s efforts to air lift more than 8,000 Cubans to El Salvador certainly comes under the heading of what the report calls movement trafficking.

The report also said that the Costa Rican “government conducted 25 targeted raids of sites where sex trafficking was suspected and interviewed 934 potential victims (931 women and 3 men), but did not identify any trafficking victims among them, despite media reports that some were unpaid, deceived about the type of  employment and working conditions, or compelled to remain in prostitution through threats of violence and other forms of psychological coercion.”

But the report said that the failure to find so-called trafficking victims is not because they do not exist, but “this suggests shortcomings in the methodology or implementation of the interviews.”

The report appears to be referring to a number of raids of San José nightspots where customers were forced to remain and many made to submit to intrusive interviews by volunteers for non-profit agencies that receive support from the U.S. government.

The report also makes no mention of the September arrest of a U.S. citizen, Dave Strecker. The Florida man remained incarcerated awaiting a preliminary hearing on a charge of promoting Costa Rica as a sexual tourism destination, which it is. Investigators followed Strecker for 12 days in the hopes 

This is a graphic from the 2016 report

This is a graphic from the 2016 report

that he would be caught in some crime as he visited various nightspots.

Strecker for years has posted tales of his Latin America sex exploits on a Web page, although the server is not located in Costa Rica and the man did his writing elsewhere.

Prosecutors are not inclined to bring the case forward because of the charge’s violations of basic human rights. They also are trying to wear him down for a guilty plea. Some of the man’s friends are trying to find out if the United States was complicit in the case.

The report repeats the statement from the prior year that “Costa Rica is a source, transit, and destination country for men,  women, and children subjected to sex trafficking and forced  labor. Costa Rican women and children are subjected to sex trafficking within the country, with those living in the north and central Pacific coastal zones being particularly vulnerable.”  The State Department again puts the country on what it calls its tier 2 watch list.

The report may suffer from some deficiencies because embassy staffers usually are told not to go into downtown San José or to other places where much of the prostitution exists. They also would see transvestite prostitutes working various corners after dark. There does not seem to be any input from an organization that represents prostitutes.

The entire report stresses forced labor and forced prostitution.
The State Department said despite sustained anti-trafficking efforts, millions of individuals are bound by “mental, physical, and financial coercion” and manipulation by traffickers who “exploit their vulnerabilities for profit,” according to a wire service report.

“Modern day slavery that still today claims more than 20 million victims on any given time, all 20 million are people . . . they have names, they have or had families,” said U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry, calling human trafficking an industry that makes billions of dollars each year, the wire services said.

The summary on Costa Rica is HERE!

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