Prostitution over eighteen years is legal in Costa Rica, pimping is not. Costa Rican sex tourism generates a lot of income, directly and indirectly, though the government tries to downplay it. Ticos generally look down on prostitutes, whereas tourists, away from home and friends, don’t care. With a lack of genuine opportunities to make enough money to support their families, some Ticas enter the profession. The lion’s share of Costa Rica prostitution is centered in San Jose, though it is also in the larger coastal towns and elsewhere. The money can be instantly gratifying, but irregular, and the lifestyle quickly takes its toll on the prostitute’s most saleable asset, her youth.

Sometimes a husband knowingly allows his wife to perform such services, while he minds the children at home. San Jose’s core area bars and nightclubs are teeming with attractive young prostitutes from all over Central and South America and the Caribbean, in particular, Nicaragua, Columbia and the Dominican Republic. The foreign women are almost invariably escaping the grip of extreme poverty elsewhere, leaving children with family, and in hopes of returning one day with enough money to start a new life. Very few ever reach their dream. Many are deported by immigration authorities, destitute and penniless, physically and mentally abused, most addicted to cocaine and crack. Though many prostitutes are required to be blood tested and carry up to date health cards, an equal number escape testing, possibly for fear of discovering the truth and ending their career. Besides, testing is inconclusive. The transmission of AIDS has quietly reached epidemic proportions as some twenty thousand people in Costa Rica have now been infected with the virus that causes AIDS. Seventy percent are gay.

Some hotels in our area shun guests returning with prostitutes. Others, charge $10 or $15 to the guest, take a copy of the prostitute’s identification (for the guest’s protection), ask that they be discrete, and the guest must take full responsibility for his visitor. It is not my wish to morally condemn the world’s oldest profession, but if it does exist, the government should strictly control it in licensed establishments with heavy security surveillance and frequent H.I.V. testing of the prostitutes and perhaps even of their clients. Prostitutes need to carry valid up to date health cards, and be made aware of the risks they are taking, and in particular the need to practice safe sex. Prostitutes and pimps falling outside of these controls need to be harshly penalized. The Catholic Church is against sex education in schools and has been chastised for impeding progress in this regard.

Male homosexuality is unusually prolific and very open, possibly in defiance to the machismo attitude. After dark, several hundred transvestites, dressed in stunningly beautiful attire, short dresses, clear acrylic high heels, and long wigs, stand on street corners in the first concentric ring outside of Gringo Gulch. Few carry health cards. Some are whisked away in expensive cars but just as often they use their masculine strength to subdue and rob tourists.

Costa Rica was slammed a few years back by the major network documentary “20/20” regarding the prevalence of child prostitution. These figures seem high but according to the newspaper, Al Dia, there are two thousand working children in San Jose hired by tourists and Costa Ricans, many of them addicted to drugs, with no families to turn to. The psychological damage is irreparable, and will haunt them for life. Most child prostitutes acquire their clients through pimps, who need to be severely dealt with. The shelter Fundacion Oratorio Don Bosco de Sor Maria Romero is one of the few places in San Jose that these children can turn to for help. It is funded by UNICEF and private donations.

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