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Domestic Violence
Trying to Break the Cycle
Woman discusses her ongoing battle with spousal abuse

By Arianna McKinney

They had been married about 6 months the first time it happened. He came home drunk and she asked him for the money she had earned at her job. They started fighting and he knocked her down the stairs of the two-story house they lived in.

She tried to defend herself with a broom, but he cut the broom into pieces and cut her, leaving a permanent scar along her neck. After the fight, he went to sleep upstairs, and she slept downstairs depressed over what had happened.

For almost 9 years now, the woman, whose last name is Matarrita, has suffered domestic violence at the hands of her husband. She says that not a year has passed when he hasn't been violent. The worst time was a year ago in April when she was at the beach with her sister and their children. He arrived and was drinking and she didn't want to get in the water with him. He threw one of their two sons into the estuary, almost drowning him. Her nephew got the boy out of the water. Then her husband hit her in the head, leaving her unconscious. After that incident, she went to the house accompanied by friends to get her things. She left him for about a month that time.

Over the years, she has separated from him five times. "The times I've returned to him it's because he threatens me that if I don't return to him, he's going to kill me," she says. There's been one exception. The last time she returned he had been in an accident and she came to take care of him; she continues with him because she cares about him.

Domestic Violence in Nicoya Canton
"Gender-based violence has its roots in the patriarchal society and is the direct consequence of unequal and discriminatory gender roles and social conditions that are absolutely unfavorable to women," according to the Instituto Nacional de las Mujeres – National Institute of Women (INAMU).
Nicoya canton, which includes Nosara and Samara, ranks number 2 in the greatest number of domestic violence incidents in the province of Guanacaste, according to Nixon Salas Jimenez, third district chief for Nicoya who has been keeping statistics for Nicoya canton. The public force receives 5 or 6 calls a day on average and domestic violence incidents take up the largest share of their time and are given first priority, he says. If the police are attending another matter when a domestic violence call comes in, they have to give first priority to the domestic violence case in hopes of preventing the altercation from escalating. When domestic violence against a woman is in progress, it is the only situation in which police can enter a home without a court order because it is considered a "state of need," Salas explained, based on Costa Rica's Law of Penalization of Violence Against Women.

He says that most cases of domestic violence are fights between couples, but men aren't the only aggressors. Sometimes women hit men, but a man is less likely to say anything, so the aggression remains hidden.



The country has two laws for domestic violence, one for interfamily violence and one for violence against women and the law for violence against women became stricter this year, Salas explained. On February 1, 2011 articles 22 and 25 of the law were modified, calling for prison terms of three months to two years for mistreating the woman to whom the man is married or in a union, whether or not that union is declared.

Although domestic violence can occur at any economic level, Salas said it is more prevalent in families of low social-economic status. Lack of employment or drug addiction can also contribute but the principal factor associated with domestic violence is alcoholism. He also attributed the high incidence of domestic violence in Nicoya canton to the canton's large population (it has the second largest population in Guanacaste) and to the machismo characteristic of Guanacaste's patriarchal culture. "It's changing, but it's very difficult," he admitted when asked if he believes things will change.

  According to the National Institute for Women (INAMU) there has been an increase in the number of consultations attended by the Women's Delegation, which by May of 2011 totaled 2,786. Calls to 911 in just the first trimester totaled 11,500, of which 949 were during Semana Santa (Holy Week).

Efforts to Break the Cycle
Salas and other members of the public force have been trying to educate the community about domestic violence through a radio program Friday mornings at 9 a.m. on Radio Cultural 88.3 and discussions in schools. They're focusing on working with children in hopes of a better future because it's difficult to change adults. Focusing on children is important because kids who grow up in an environment of violence statistically tend to become victims or aggressors.

Domestic violence links to other crimes as kids look to drugs and get involved in assaults and robberies, for example.

The police hope to make people more sensitive to domestic violence and encourage reporting incidents to the public force or 911. Victims should be reassured that they are important and that they don't have to live this way. But they should be encouraged in a way that doesn't re-victimize them, never telling them "don't be foolish" or "you are to blame." Salas explained that many victims feel guilty for not doing things the way their partner demands.

Mileidy Granados, a female police officer in Samara, believes that women should be educated about what constitutes domestic violence, as many women don't realize that things like insults, bad words and yelling are aspects of domestic violence, not just physical aggression. Saying things like "you're worthless" and "you won't find another" are verbal abuses that are punishable by law. "That happened to me," she admitted. "Until the police entered, I didn't realize that it was domestic violence."

When a woman is determined to get out of the cycle of abuse, protective measures can be taken. When a victim of domestic violence denounces an aggressor before the family court, protective measures go into effect for 6 months, during which period if the aggressor again shows lack of respect, mistreats the victim or even humiliates the person verbally, the aggressor can be imprisoned. Although many victims choose to continue living together, the aggressor can be evicted and ordered not to go near the house.

Sometimes, Granados explained, a woman decides to denounce the man to scare him, but that doesn't always work. "Some of them get their act together; others get worse," she observed.

The Sad Effects of Violence in the Family
Matarrita has benefited from professional help. She's talked with social workers and a psychologist, and as a result her view of herself has slowly improved. Before, she struggled with low self-esteem and lived with a complex because she believed him when he told her that she was ugly and good for nothing. "I have learned to like myself," she affirmed.

She has also noted changes in her husband. "He recognizes that he needs psychological help. It's just that it's really hard to get an appointment with a psychologist." He also recognizes that alcohol is a problem and even went to a couple of Alcholics Anonymous meetings.

Noticeably, their two children have been affected by the environment at home. Matarrita noticed that they listen to the way her husband talks and imitate him. One of her children suffers from nervousness and has problems interacting with other kids at school.

As a result of the last denunciation against her husband, the stricter law might force a change at this point. She was recently informed that her husband may have to go to prison for up to three years and is waiting anxiously to find out if this will happen or if an alternative might be possible.

Domestic violence happens all too often. Maybe people turn a blind eye. Maybe not. Maybe someone calls for help. And maybe, just maybe, with a lot of education, support and patience, the cycle of violence can be broken.


Family Violence doesn't happen continuously but has three basic phases.

1) In the first phase, the aggressor is accumulating tension and anger, so incidents might not occur or might be very minor.

What not to do: The victim shouldn't do everything asked of her or try to get along, be condescending.

Don't justify behavior: "he's so tense, poor guy works so much," "it was an accident, the glass slipped," "I didn't do the task well," "I'm very fat, I'm unattractive," "I'm no good at cooking," "he's changing, now he gets angry less"…

The symptoms of an assaulted person in this phase are: fear, anxiety, depression, loss of appetite and fatigue.

2) In the second phase, the aggression actually occurs. The aggressor finally loses control. During this phase, people feel trapped, avoid provoking the aggressor more and hope that the punishment passes, they "block out" in order to not feel.

After the incident they become indifferent, with depression, isolation, denial and they lose all hope of getting out of the situation. It's at this moment when the person tends to look for help or leave the house.

3) The third phase that completes the circle is a period of calm, when the aggressor repents and behaves affectionately. He promises to change and that everything is going to be different. Since the victim ends up believing him, any measure taken in the previous phase to detain the violence will be abandoned. Why do they believe him? There's great confusion when they have changes from violence to affection in such little time, they're afraid of future retaliation, they have real hope that the person is going to change, the aggressor convinces other people who end up interceding to not break up the family, they feel responsible because the aggressor needs him/her or threatens to commit suicide.

(Source UNED)


Phone numbers to call in case of family violence
• National Center for the Development of Women and Family (CMF) – 2225-1049
• National Institute of Women (INAMU) – 2253-7841, 2253-9836 y 2253-9624
• Public Advocate – 800-2296-4114 (toll free)

Where to Look for Help in Guanacaste
• Hospital de la Anexión (Nicoya) Department of Social Work – 2685-5066
• Oficinas de la Mujer in the Municipality
• Clinic or EBAIS


More Regional News

Police Continue Investigation of the Poisoning Death of a High School Student

A bizarre and saddening incident has shocked the community of Nosara. Tuesday August 23, 17 year old Hernandez was intercepted by two men on his way to school. The victim explain to the judicial police that a man allegedly assaulted him with a gun, forced him to drink poison and then robbed him of 50 000 colones and his cell phone.

Man in Samara attacks mayor over property dispute

As Mayor Marcos Jimenez was visiting Samara on Tuesday, August 23, Manfred Spitzbarth struck him twice with a club, according to witness Oscar Aquilino Baltodano, first in the stomach and then in the arm. He also hit another municipal official in the shoulder, Collection Agent Steven Alfaro Arnáez, collection agent, who then took the club away from him.

Proper Road Maintenance Too Costly for Nosara

Road maintenance between Samara and Ostional is at a standstill. The National Roads Authority (Conavi) is responsible for ongoing maintenance to Route 160 between the two villages but is facing a question of quality versus financial and legal obsticles.

Busy Week for Samara Police
One man stabbed in front of police station and two detained for fighting at a bar 

The Samara Police (Fuerza Publica) dealt with two incidents of aggression last week. As a result two men were detained and another man is, in effect, banished; he is restricted from coming within one kilometer of Samara. 

Lightning Strikes Killing American Woman

Thirty six year old, Jenifer Faith King, of Los Angeles, California was pronounced dead after being hit by lightning. The accident occurred in Ostional Beach, 11 kilometers from Nosara town, between three and four p.m. Thursday August 11.

Samara Police Proud Owners of Patrol Vehicle

Patrolling Samara and the surrounding communities just got easier for the public force with the addition of a valuable new resource: a pickup-style truck fitted with a topper to detain and transport suspects. 

Pilgrimage to Los Angeles: A Journey of the Heart

Each year, on August 2, Susana Rivera makes her way to the hilltop village of Los Angeles, Nosara, Guanacaste. This year, like years prior, Susana along with hundreds of Nosarenos make the pilgrimage to the top of San Juan Mountain to show respect to La Virgen de Los Angeles (the Virgin of the Angels), patroness of Costa Rica.

Nicoya Takes Step to Begin the Process of Closing Garbage Dump

Various people from Nicoya and Samara know that the colonial city's garbage dump collapsed 12 years ago. Efforts to solve the "stinky" problem didn't work and the Ministry of Health has closed the dump twice. However, it appears that this time the Municipality of Nicoya is looking for a final solution. The Municipality decided to begin the technical closure to diminish the environmental impact, and to create a recycling center to reduce the quantity of refuse that is sent to the dump.

Association Will Seek Concession Over the Nosara River

The Nosara Development Association wants material from the Nosara River to benefit the community and expects that the Ministerio de Ambiente, Energía y Telecomunicaciones (Energy and Telecomunicatin Minister), through the Dirección de Geología y Minas (Geology and Mines Department), will take them into consideration, granting them a concession to exploit the river's materials.


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