MEXICO CITY — Yazmín Morales remembers weeping with rage after an encounter 4 years in the past within the book-lined examine of her nation’s most revered statesman. Óscar Arias Sánchez, a Nobel Peace Prize laureate and former Costa Rican president, had pinned her in opposition to a door, she says, forcibly kissing and groping her.
Till final week, Ms. Morales stored the episode to herself. However after one other girl got here ahead to file a felony criticism in opposition to the previous president alleging sexual assault, Ms. Morales summoned the braveness so as to add her voice.
Ms. Morales, a former Miss Costa Rica, wished a strong felony lawyer to characterize her. She referred to as one, then one other. After a 3rd additionally refused to take her case, she determined to behave alone. Accompanied solely by her half sister, she, too, filed a felony criticism in opposition to Mr. Arias.
The case of Mr. Arias, who now faces accusations of sexual assault or misconduct from at the least 9 girls, is rising as probably the most vital of the #MeToo period in Latin America.
However it has additionally revealed simply how troublesome it’s for girls to hunt authorized recourse in circumstances involving highly effective males. In a area the place the legal guidelines lay out a progressive imaginative and prescient of ladies’s rights, the social and political limitations to exercising these rights can appear insurmountable.
On Sunday, the record of Mr. Arias’s accusers grew once more when Carina A. Black, 52, a political scientist on the College of Nevada, Reno, informed The New York Instances that Mr. Arias tried to grope and kiss her in 1998, when he visited the college as a speaker.
As she took Mr. Arias round at conferences and occasions, Ms. Black mentioned, she discovered herself alone in an elevator with him. He pushed her in opposition to the elevator wall, put his hand throughout her chest and tried to kiss her, she mentioned.
“I pushed him, and I smacked him within the face,” she mentioned.
However as a result of she was not injured, it by no means occurred to her to file a report, Ms. Black mentioned. She has determined to inform her story now, she mentioned, partly so folks will imagine his first accuser.
“Arias is so highly effective,” she mentioned. “He has enormous land possession. He’s so revered. In Latin America, the ability is so tilted on the facet of males. This habits is what most ladies have grown up with.”
Gloriana Valladares, a lawyer for Mr. Arias, acknowledged that he faces two authorized complaints, from Ms. Morales and the primary accuser, Alexandra Arce von Herold, a psychiatrist and nuclear disarmament activist. Ms. Valladares mentioned she wouldn’t remark as a result of the preliminary phases of the proceedings are non-public.
Final week, Mr. Arias “categorically” denied Dr. Arce’s assault allegations, saying he had by no means acted in a means that disrespected the need of any girl.
Ms. Morales, 48, mentioned that as she regarded for a high-profile lawyer to characterize her, she discovered that all of them had some type of connection to Mr. Arias. Two of the attorneys she approached have been former justice ministers, and one had run for the presidency.
All of them discovered an excuse to not assist her. One mentioned that he was a good friend of Mr. Arias’s spouse. One other mentioned that he didn’t take sexual-abuse circumstances, and the third mentioned that he was too busy, she mentioned.
“They most well-liked to not become involved,” Ms. Morales mentioned in a phone interview. “I used to be scared. If the attorneys didn’t need to help me, no person else would.”
Ms. Morales declined to call the attorneys. “I’m already petrified of Óscar Arias,” she mentioned. “Giving extra names could be much more troublesome.”
When she arrived to file her criticism, she met with a prosecutor and a psychologist and was suggested to discover a lawyer. Her criticism was first reported on the web site of the Costa Rican journalist Amelia Rueda.
Larissa Arroyo, a lawyer with a gaggle in San José, the Costa Rican capital, that works to forestall gender-based violence and discrimination, mentioned that girls who wished to press felony expenses with out authorized help have been very susceptible.
“It’s simply not true that entry to justice is identical for everyone,” she mentioned.
“Submitting a criticism has a really excessive worth,” Ms. Arroyo mentioned. “It implies an emotional and financial worth, even shedding a job or being stigmatized publicly.”
One of many issues, she mentioned, is that few attorneys are skilled to cope with problems with gender and human rights.
Laura Chinchilla, a protégée of Mr. Arias’s who additionally served as president, mentioned he had a proper to a protection, however acknowledged the constraints girls face once they accuse highly effective males of misconduct.
“As a society, we have now an obligation to help the victims in order that they will break their silence and the abuses do not stay in impunity,” she wrote on Fb.
Arcelio Hernández, the lawyer who agreed to take Ms. Morales’s case after she filed her criticism, mentioned that colleagues had referred to as to warn him in opposition to taking it. “How dare you go in opposition to this man?” Mr. Hernández mentioned, summarizing their feedback. “After all, persons are afraid.”
Mr. Arias, 78, was president from 1986 to 1990 and once more from 2006 to 2010. He received the Nobel Peace Prize in 1987 for his mediation efforts throughout civil wars in Central America.
Dr. Arce, 34, the primary girl to come back ahead, is a psychiatrist at a state hospital in San José. She usually met with Mr. Arias in her nuclear disarmament work, and mentioned she was at his residence in late 2014 when he got here up behind her, touched her breasts and shoved his arms up her skirt, penetrating her along with his fingers.
In an interview final fall, Dr. Arce mentioned a number of folks had cautioned her in opposition to going public. “Folks started to make me really feel scared about my safety — my bodily safety,” she mentioned.
When Dr. Arce first posted her account on social media final yr, a journalist good friend persuaded her to take it down, warning that she could possibly be broken by the tabloid media.
Mr. Arias didn’t know Ms. Morales personally earlier than he invited her to his home round Easter of 2015 to offer her a guide of his essays and speeches. (The editor of that guide says that as she labored with Mr. Arias, he as soon as put his hand on her leg and that he referred to as her twice, insisting that she come to his home for a therapeutic massage.)
Ms. Morales, who labored as a tv host and mannequin after successful Miss Costa Rica in 1994, posts magnificence recommendations on her Fb web page and sells skincare merchandise on-line.
For greater than an hour, the assembly was cordial. Mr. Arias gave her a tour of his elegant residence earlier than signing his guide.
However when she moved to go away, he pinned her in opposition to the door, pulled her head again and kissed her, urgent his physique in opposition to hers and touching her breasts, she mentioned. Shocked, all she might say was: “Don Oscar, I’ve to go,” utilizing a respectful type of handle in Costa Rica.
He didn’t stress her additional, strolling her to the entrance gate and opening it.
She determined it was time to inform her story after Dr. Arce got here ahead. “I used to be motivated by that lady, who may be very courageous, and by the #MeToo motion,” Ms. Morales mentioned.
Rather a lot has modified for girls since 2015, she mentioned.
“Ladies’s voices are being heard,” she mentioned.