Femicides in Costa Rica femicides between 2004 and 2014

In three out of four femicides, the victims never reported their offenders

From 2004 to 2014, there was an average of 32 femicides a year.

Versión español

In Costa Rica, each year between 2004 and 2014, an average of 32 women died in the hands of their partners. In the majority of these cases - a 75%- the victims never reported the assault to the authorities nor did they submit official aggression statements against their murderers.

During that decade, out of the 316 documented deaths only 16 victims had protective measures and only 79 submitted abuse reports.

This follows from an analysis made by AmeliaRueda.com from the statistics issued by the Judiciary, body in charge of managing official information regarding this crime.

The murders of these women are not common homicides. Their murders are considered "femicides" because their gender is the killing motif.

Femicides are the greatest violence against women. To come to this outcome, the abuse raises levels intensively, leaving a trail of suffering and pain behind that are, in most cases, warnings and signs that transcend the private sphere and announce a bloody ending.

The number has been fluctuating over the analyzed decade: in 2011, the highest number of femicides was registered (42), while the lowest amount was of 18 in 2013.

There are two definitions for "femicides":

The first one, sentenced in article 21 of the Law of Penalization of Violence Against Women:

the one who gives death to the woman they have as a partner in a marital relationship, declared or not as a common-law relationship.

The other one; a broader definition from the International Convention of Belém Do Pará; that a femicide is understood as any action or behavior based on gender, "that causes death..." perpetrated:

within the family or in any other interpersonal relationship, whether the offender shares or has shared the same address with the woman
in the community (…) by any person
... or tolerated by the Government or its agents, wherever it takes place

What are the flaws?

"When we encounter a femicide case with no protective measurements or no violence background (in the judicial system), it means the whole system failed; it should have been detected. A femicide is not a spontaneous act; it is the accumulation of a process of violence the system has to identify and prevent before it reaches such level.

The explanation was provided by Jeannette Arias Meza, director of the Judiciary Gender Technical Secretariat, body in charge of developing strategies and policies to eliminate the gap for access to justice between men and women and to understand the gender violence matter.

The reasons are varied. There are the most precise ones, such as the geographical distance between the victim's residence and the court where the complaint can be submitted.

"There are cases in which the woman did not know where to submit the complaint, how to submit it, did not receive attention when asking for assistance or was not empowered to ask for help", states Arias, who claims protective measurements are a vital element to prevent femicides because in the majority of cases, they keep the offender away and controlled.

Protective measurements are written down in article 3 of the Law against Domestic Violence.

Ana Hidalgo, director of the Gender-Based Violence department at the Women National Institute (INAMU for its acronym in Spanish), commits not only to protective measurements, but also to the clear and determined identification of a series of behaviors and situations to offer help to women.

To accomplish that, Hidalgo claims, it is vital to train the police and judiciary employees so they give the alert when receiving signs of abuse. In sum, the proposal aims for women victims of violence that submit the risk factors to receive a distinctive and special treatment due to their high vulnerability.

"These are announced deaths; women who have an increasing history of abuse. They are preventable. It is not that one day a guy went crazy and killed a woman; that is not how it works. There are visible factors that allow to prevent the assassination", Hidalgo stated.


Another reason that explains why women do not report the situation, is the high level of vulnerability they are in.

"It is possible the abuse comes from early relationships when the woman was younger, which allows the man -who is older- to control and force her to psychological, sexual or physical violence", the expert said. She added that right on that age range, women go through their fertile stage ready to have children and therefore, become more vulnerable. As a consequence, we must ensure she and her children are safe.

We must add the wealth factor to it; cases in which the abused woman is economically dependent from the man, so she needs him.

15% of the femicide victims were underage

Killings committed between 2004 and 2014

Out of a total of 316 registered femicides between 2004 and 2014, 15% were underage.

Among the underage femicide victims, there are two different categories. The first one involves the daughters of the women with whom the offenders have or had a relationship.

In those cases, the offenders act against the minor as as strategy to harass or punish their partner. In some cases, the offender is also the minor's father. In fact, 100% of femicide victims between 2004 and 2014 were murdered by their own fathers.

The other category has to do with young women who have relationships with older men.

Authorities have categorized these bonds as "inappropriate relationships", where there is abuse of power and illegal sexual activities. The Criminal Code classifies the sexual intercourse with women under the age of 15 as a crime, even if the woman consents.

Triggers for femicides

In 20% of the femicides, the situation happened as a consequence of the woman deciding to put an end to the relationship.

Under the systematic violence umbrella and the excessive misogyny of the femicides, each death had a trigger that caused the act to materialize. In 20% of the femicides (62 out of 316 between 2004 and 2014), the trigger was the decision of ending the relationship.

The murderers took their victims lives because they decided to end the bond they had, something unacceptable to the eyes of the offender.

Ruthman Moreira, sociologist expert in the field of masculinity and violence, confirms these facts as the most toxic elements of the hegemonic masculinity. Offenders believe women belong to them and that, when attempting to end the relationship, the woman will be out of their boundaries and control, a "defiance" they make them pay. Actually, for 39% of the femicides (a total of 124), the trigger was the offender "possessive behavior".

Another relevant category is the "unrequited love" ones, corresponding to a 7%. This category belongs to situations in which the offender found as a reason to murder the woman, the fact that she did not want to be his partner. On the other hand, having mental issues was the trigger for just 1 of 316 registered femicides of the analyzed decade.

For the INAMU expert, Ana Hidalgo, this demystifies the belief that offenders act by madness or because they are mentally ill. In fact, states Hidalgo -backed up by statistics-, what happens is just toxic and patriarchal violence.

Father of the victim was the murderer in 5 out of 100 femicides

Between 2004 and 2014, 15 Costa Rican women had an early death in the hands of the man who gave them life. They correspond to a 5% of the femicides total (316) registered in the country for that period of time.

The number of women murdered by their fathers (filicide) was gathered from a Judiciary statistics analysis made by AmeliaRueda.com.

Experts explain this phenomenon as an attack or intention to damage that was not actually intended to aim their daughters but their mothers, with whom the offenders had a relationship. In other words, the offenders, as an strategy to harm and harass their partner or ex partner, inflict the abuse against the daughter they have in common.

Ana Hidalgo, director of the Gender-Based Violence department at the INAMU, analyzes the situation. "It is as if the daughters where at the line of fire; they are threatened with harm and punishment to harass the mother. It's a game of power in which the weakest and most vulnerable goes through the worst", she detailed.

In October 2009, a guy named Ego Aguirre murdered his 8 month old daughter and choked his wife in Escazú, a district of San José.

That same night, he committed suicide. That, precisely, is another element of filicide; the murderer kills himself.

In the analyzed decade, 18% of the murderers committed suicide. Ruthman Moreira, sociologist expert in the field of masculinity and violence, explained that committing suicide is the offender's way out when they cannot find answers to their uncontrolled rage. At the same time, it is their way to avoid a judicial process that "will not understand" the reasons why he committed the murder.

Besides the case of killer fathers, there are also cases of sons killing their mothers and grandsons killing their grandmothers. For the first scenario, there where 8 cases during the analyzed decade; for the second one, 2.

Murderers killed 40% of the femicide victims with their bare hands

18% of offenders commit suicide after murdering their victims

4 out of 10 offenders kill their partners or ex partners with their bare hands, either beating them down or choking them.

This results from a study held by AmeliaRueda.com from the Judiciary statistics between 2004 and 2014.

During that time, there were 316 documented femicides based on the established criteria in article 21 of the Law of Penalization of Violence against Women and on the the International Convention of Belém Do Pará.

When offenders use their hands, they show a brutal crime with a particular interest of causing pain and belittle the person, says Ana Hidalgo, director of the Gender-Based Violence department at the INAMU.

When hands are not used, Hidalgo adds, we can still notice the high level of violence; they do not murder women with one shot but 10, they do not stab once but 20 times.

"You don't need 20 bullets to kill someone, nor running them over 3 times with the car, chopping off their breasts or cutting their body. There's misogyny on these crimes, there's hate towards women".

The expert added that the killing method uncovers a difference between femicides and other murders; it highlights that homicide male victims -with the exception of a few organized crime cases- are not subject to such violence level because the fundamental reasons are different.

Trampled-down pride

Ruthman Moreira, sociologist expert in the field of masculinity and violence, detailed that femicide methods reveal the most toxic expression of misogyny.

"Generally, the murder is a punishment from the man to the woman for disobeying his rules... she either ends with the relationship or, if they already broke up, she gets into a new relationship. Then the man, from a traditional masculinity, believes that's how he can control her and, by doing so, he'll establish order. It's a demonstration of power, of confirming his masculinity, that's why he kills with his bare hands and with such violent methods", explains the expert.

That same toxic violence covering the murderers makes them commit suicide. This happens in 18% of the cases. In the majority of situations, it happens minutes after the assassination of his victim.

9 out of 10 defendants are condemned

Most defendants get sentences of 20 and up to 29 years in prison.

89% of the total of defendants accused for femicide ended up in prison.

A femicide is the murder of a woman by his husband or partner (consensual union) and it is documented as a crime in Costa Rica since 2007, in article 21 of the Law of Penalization of Violence Against Women.

Since 2007 and until 2014, there were a total of 53 femicide sentences, out of which 47 were condemnatory and the remaining 6 were acquittals.

This is one of the findings from the Judiciary statistics study made by AmeliaRueda.com.

There were 79 femicides documented on that period of time. The reason why the sentence numbers do not add up with the femicides is because there are still open cases, others in which the same person murdered several women and there are also cases in which the the offender commits suicide.

This information was provided by the Judiciary statistics department director, Ana Ericka Rodríguez.

Besides the femicides based on article 21 of the mentioned law, the Judiciary also classifies under the same crime, those murderers in which the offender is an ex partner, relative or acquaintance of the victim.

Under that category, between 2007 and 2014, there were 153 documented femicides; nevertheless, they were prosecuted by other criminal typology such as aggravated homicide or murder.

General Editor: Amelia Rueda

Executive Editor: Antonio Jiménez

Texts: Alonso Mata Blanco

Illustrations: Rosa Alvarado

Videos: Luis Carlos Bogantes

Animation, Graphics and Web Design: Henry Arroyo - Nexus Digital