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Costa Rica Sex Tourism is a Local Problem

Closed Massage Parlor
Massage Parlors in San Jose are Often a Front for Venues Offering Clandestine Services.

Costa Rica Sex tourism has been a headline of interest for many years, capturing the attention of those opposed to the practice, as well as those interested in becoming a client. Interested parties, though often thought to be only wild tourists, are very often local men, as evidenced by San José’s proliferation of “massage parlors.”

Approximately 100 massage parlors, more than half located in San José, misuse their government licenses, offering happy endings instead of muscle relaxation. The massage parlors, though illegal, advertise openly in local papers and magazines. They open doors at 9 a.m. daily, working every day of the week, including holidays.

Each massage parlor employs 15-20 attractive women, most ranging from 18 to 25 years old. The prostitutes charge ¢20,000 ($40) per hour and up, depending on the needs and desires of their clients. The women work for a variety of reasons, mostly fueled by too little education to earn a living wage.

“I didn’t finish high school, and when I looked for work, I couldn’t find anything good. I was 20 years old, and employed as a maid for awhile. A friend talked to me about the massage parlors and one day I went with here. I thought I’d just work for a little while, while I made some money, but I stayed and now I’ve been working 5 years [as a prostitute],” one unidentified “masseuse” reported to La Nacion newspaper.

Operating such a massage parlor is illegal, considered pimping, and carries a sentence of two to five years in prison. This deterrent does little to stop the massage parlors from doing business, however, as local publications prove. “New Massage Parlor with 15 Hostesses,” “Naughty hands, new and daring, the women await you,” “Sensual massages for gentlemen,” promise the headlines, offering phone numbers, operating hours, and addresses for public review. Other ads boast sexual services “to go” in which a client can choose his preferred profile for the guest to come make a house call.

Despite such obvious leads, Costa Rican police and officials do little to dissuade the ever growing industry. “It’s something unstoppable… they’re complex jobs that take time,” assistant OIJ director , Francisco Segura, explained. The fact is, police do not investigate local massage parlors to ensure activities are kept strictly legal. “It’s difficult to exercise control over certain activities because we have thousands of licenses,” San José mayor, Johnny Araya, explained.

Araya’s Escazú counterpart, Marco Antonio Segura, refuses to believe that such prostitution takes place in his neck of the woods, stating that “We have beauty salons, but I don’t believe that they offer prostitution, we have never received even one complaint… [I'm skeptical that] these massage parlors operate in this canton. It would be very difficult,” Segura continued. Despite his words, police have received reports of illegal brothels operating in Escazú.

Prostitution is legal in Costa Rica, and all prostitutes are required to register with the government, and get regular health checkups. Running a brothel, however, is completely illegal, and hiring un-registered prostitutes is an unsafe practice for all involved. Yet for a country whose police force lacks in financial resources, thieves and violent criminals take precedent over the relatively peaceful brothel owners, as well as their hired help.

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Written by Erin Raub

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