Prof. shares research from Costa Rica

By on April 2, 2008

Fifty-eight percent of Costa Rican women have been victims of domestic violence at least once in their lifetime. But with new legislation the country is working to decrease that percentage and to change the expectations of little girls by teaching them “Vivir Sin Violencia es su Derecho,” which translates as “to live without violence is their right.”

Dr. Lori Sudderth, associate professor of sociology and director of the criminal justice program, spent six months in Costa Rica last year as a Fulbright Scholar, which provides funds for scholars to conduct advanced research abroad. Sudderth shared her experiences and the results of her domestic violence policy research with about 40 students and faculty as she presented a lecture and slideshow entitled, “Vivir Sin Violencia es su Derecho: Domestic Violence Policy in Costa Rica,” on Wednesday, March 26 in Buckman Theater. The lecture was part of the Sigma Xi Albert Notation Memorial Series Seminar.

Violence against women and policy related to it has been an interest of Sudderth’s for a number of years. She talked about her research in Costa Rica, including statistics and the history of legislation.

Sudderth reported that half of the women who have endured any type of domestic violence felt their life was in danger, but fewer than half felt that the incident was a crime. “That is an indicator that this is normalized,” she said.

Much of this violence is perpetrated by intimate partners, so according to Sudderth, only about 10 percent of women reported the incidents.

Costa Rica’s constitution, written in 1949, guarantees gender equality under the law. They have also adopted legislation from international conventions against gender discrimination, and there are now more women in the workforce.

However, Sudderth explained several causes of resistance to change including family pressure, financial dependence, and religion (Costa Rica is 95 percent Catholic). She also mentioned what she called a “culture of machismo,” where women are considered possessions as a way of showing status.

Despite cultural resistance, a number of progressive laws have been passed.

Sudderth discussed two laws from the 1990s that extended the scope of legislation to cover psychological abuse. There are also women’s organizations such as CEFEMINA, which holds support groups for women across the country, and INAMU, the National Institute of Women, a branch of the government that deals only with women’s issues.

The most recent law was enacted just a month before Sudderth began her time in Costa Rica. Ley de Penalizacion de la Violencia Contra Las Mujeres, which translates to “law of penalization of the violence against women,” is more specific than past laws, increases penalties for perpetrators, and offers the possibility of treatment.

In her study of domestic violence policy, Sudderth focused primarily on this new law, interviewing judges, prosecutors, defense lawyers, representatives from the women’s organizations, police officers, and domestic violence experts, to determine the law’s impact.

She found strengths and weaknesses to the law, but that most people feel it will help in the long run.

At the end of her time in Costa Rica, Sudderth made a number of recommendations to the government based on the results of her research including the creation of a centralized data set, offering standardized training for professionals as well as offender treatment, and starting a program of prevention and public education. Because of budget issues, Sudderth is unsure if all of her recommendations will be enacted, but she knows some of them are already part of future plans.

For Sudderth, one of the best parts of her time in Costa Rica was getting to know the people.

Her most powerful memory is when a young man who had been helping her practice her Spanish invited her to his humble home for a traditional Christmas meal.

“It was just a wonderful visit and they were so generous, and later on I learned that the third Friday of every month, the whole neighborhood is without water because they clean out the neighborhood water tank and they empty it, so nobody has water for several hours. So, they had gotten up really, really early in the morning to collect water so that they could serve us coffee, and the generosity of that act just taught me that wealth has nothing to do with generosity,” Sudderth said.


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