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Illegal pimping is the engine that drives sex tourism

by Garland M Baker on July 7, 2008

First of two parts

Prostitution is legal in Costa Rica. The activity is legal because there is no law against it. In this country, if there is no law prohibiting something, it is legal.

The legality of paid sex has spawned a wide range of activities that are not legal. Yet Costa Rica makes no effort to enforce these laws, despite lip service to the contrary.

The criminal code lumps most of these illegal activities under the heading of pimping. The skeptical could call it, simply, marketing.

Costa Rica has become a magnet for the sex tourist. The country rivals competitors like Thailand, Brazil, Sri Lanka, Dominican Republic and Cuba. Brazil and the Dominican Republic are the de facto leaders for sex tourism in the Western Hemisphere, but Costa Rica is a serious contender.

The penal code prohibits pimping in Articles 169 and 171. However, pimping is widespread throughout the country, and the government is generally tolerating the activity. Pimping is the marketing engine that brings the customer and the prostitute together. Without pimping, there would be much less sex tourism.

There are two words for pimping in Spanish, proxenetismo and rufianería. Proxenetismo is the activity of promoting or fostering prostitution of either sex. Rufianería is coercively engaging another into prostitution for financial gain.

Wikipedia defines it this way: “A pimp finds and manages clients for prostitutes and engages them in prostitution (in brothels in most cases and some cases street prostitution) in order to profit from their earnings.”

Most every expat knows there are literally hundreds of brothels throughout San José and thousands throughout the country. The owners of those brothels advertise to get clients and manage the money for the prostitutes.

This is how it works: one goes into a brothel to have sex with a prostitute and pays another person for the activity. The owner keeps a portion of the proceeds, and the prostitute gets a percentage of the take. In other words, the owner of the establishment “finds and manages clients for prostitutes.” This is pimping. The government does not crack down on these locations or controls them in anyway.

There are other pimps selling sex that go unnoticed and uncontrolled. Who are they? Well they are taxi drivers, tour bus operators, guides, and — believe it or not — other expats.

These people arrange sex for anyone. They sell men and women, boys and girls. Some students — as in high school and university students — prefer to work with tour bus operators because they can hide their activity from their parents. Prices for a high school or university student can range from $100 to an astonishing $500 an hour because the prostitutes are outside the normal marketplace.

One extraordinarily beautiful 19-year-old called prostitution “her hobby.” She said she engaged in the activity because she came from middle class Costa Rican family and wanted more. Her family does not know she is a prostitute. A tour bus operator finds her clients, drives her to their location and picks her up when she is done.

Some expats also make their living arranging tours to Costa Rica for the sole purpose of assisting their customers in finding prostitutes. Others arrange sex tours of the local hotels and brothels to sample the menu. Others run online “peek shows.” Many of these activities would fall under a reasonable definition of pimping as contains in the Costa Rican code.

Try this test: Google these keywords prostitutes costa rica. The results of the test will reflect Web sites promoting sex tourism to Costa Rica. Foreigners including Americans — not Costa Ricans — own and run them. In many cases, customers must buy a package from the Web site for their sex vacation. This again is “finding and managing clients for prostitutes” or pimping.

Does Costa Rica try to control this activity? No, it does not. In some cases, fishing or property-finding trips to Costa Rica by foreigners disguise the real activity.

The Óscar Arias government seeks to crack down on casino operations because officials say such locations promote prostitution. No official says anything about the rampant pimping and prostitution visible and invisible all over the country. Only when underage youngsters might be involved do officials express dismay.

The visible includes the strip clubs that are just fronts for the activities that go on in the private rooms inside where the house takes a substantial cut.

One of the few — and the most famous — case in Costa Rica for pimping was the ring run by Sinaí Monge. She was accused and found guilty of pimping in 2004.

Her case was notorious because she allegedly arranged sex with minors for public figures, football players and even judicial workers. Although she was convicted, years of surveillance, wiretapping and detective work failed to get the goods on any other person. Her prison sentence was modest.

Why does Costa Rica not enforce articles 169 and 171 of the penal code?

Maybe because it would be an almost impossible task. It would mean closing down thousands of brothels throughout the country. Maybe it is because sex tourism is very important for the economy of Costa Rica.

On the other hand, it could be that prostitution is so much a part of the Costa Rican culture no one really cares.

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