Costa Rican authorities busted a group of alleged sex traffickers responsible for the forced prostitution of more than a dozen women, a laudable effort that nonetheless underscores the country's lackluster record when it comes to preventing and prosecuting sexual exploitation.
In an operation that began on September 2 and lasted until the early morning hours of September 3, police raided three bars in northern Alajuela province, La Nación reported. According to the news outlet, at least 16 women had been forced into prostitution at those locations.
In addition to freeing the victims, the police also arrested five Nicaraguans accused of belonging to the sex trafficking network. The majority of the victims were from Nicaragua and the Dominican Republic, according to officials cited by La Nación.
The traffickers reportedly lured the women with false promises of well-paid work at the bars, but later forced them into prostitution and threatened them with physical harm if they tried to escape or alert the authorities.
The operation that led to the arrests reportedly stemmed from a tip from a neighbor who alerted police to the possibility of sexual exploitation occurring at one of the bars.
La Prensa reported that on September 4, the leaders of the alleged trafficking ring were ordered to serve six months in pretrial detention based on the prosecutor's argument that the suspects could flee or otherwise obstruct the ongoing investigation.
InSight Crime Analysis
As La Nación noted in a September 6 editorial, "the liberation of even one sexual slave is a great thing, and in this case 13 were freed. That is very important, but at the same time, it is a symptom of a much larger problem."
Costa Rica has long had a reputation as a hub for sex trafficking and sex tourism. The most recent Trafficking in Persons report produced by the US State Department placed Costa Rica on its "Tier 2 Watch List," noting that the Costa Rican government "did not demonstrate overall increasing anti-trafficking efforts compared to the previous reporting period."
SEE ALSO: Coverage of Human Trafficking
The La Nación editorial says that the recent raids should serve as a reminder that "Costa Rica is far from immune to the ravages of one of the three largest illicit business in the world, surpassed in size only by weapons and drugs." Dedicating more resources to combatting this lucrative illicit enterprise would likely be a wise move for authorities, especially considering the fact that the Central American country has been experiencing a growth in violence linked to criminal activities.