South Korea’s advanced technology has fueled a wave of digital sex crimes targeting young women and girls.
According to victims, researchers and advocacy groups, South Korea is the global center for the illegal filming and sharing of explicit images and videos.
Digital technologies, including high-speed streaming and encrypted chat rooms, have provided new vehicles for propagation entrenched gender discrimination and dissemination of material describing sexual violence against women.
“South Korea, unfortunately, has been ahead of the prevalence, variety and severity of digital sex crimes,” said Heather Barr, co-director of women’s rights at Human Rights Watch.
The country has the world’s highest adult smartphone ownership rate and one of its fastest internet speeds, with 99.5% of households having internet access. It was also the first country to launch 5G service.
A new report from HRW based on interviews with victims and their families points out that crimes typically involve intimate images captured and disseminated by both strangers and acquaintances of women.
In one case, Lee Ye-rin * discovered that a clock given as a gift by an employer had been broadcasting images of the interior of his bedroom for weeks.
“What happened happened in my own room – so sometimes. . . in my own bedroom, I feel terrified for no reason, ”Lee said. She added that a year after discovering the crime, she still relied on prescription drugs to fight depression and anxiety.
Another victim, Kang Yu-jin *, was forced to quit her job and move out after a former partner posted private photos along with identifiable details including her home and office address.
“There were men who wanted to contact me at the church my parents attended. . . and there were men who sent me [messages] have sex. There were also men who came to my house and to work, ”she said.
The researchers noted that beyond the dangers of stigma and harassment, suicide is also prevalent.
“I’m scared enough about my future,” said Oh Soo-jin *, another victim. “It’s always going to be on someone’s computer. . .[I thought]”I want this to stop” but this problem will never end. . . So if it can’t stop, I want to stop my life.
While digital sex crimes are a global problem, the report released on Wednesday by US-based HRW also exposed South Korea’s relatively light sentences and lack of protection for victims of digital sex crimes.
“Those responsible for the criminal justice system – most of whom are men – often seem to fail to understand, or not accept, that these are very serious crimes. . . Survivors are forced to face these crimes for the rest of their lives with little help from the legal system, ”Barr said.
Despite increased public awareness and legal reforms, the number of sex crimes cases involving illegal filming continued to increase.
Last year, student researchers and police discovered a secret chat room on the Telegram messaging app that contained footage of child sexual abuse. The material was viewed by 260,000 people, according to estimates from the Korea Cyber Sexual Violence Response Center.
According to the Korea Institute for Women’s Human Rights, the number of cases related to the illegal shooting and distribution of images and videos stood at nearly 7,000 last year, up 70% from the previous year. 2019, demonstrating increased reporting efforts.
But few cases are sanctioned. Prosecutors dropped 44% of digital sex crime cases in 2019, while nearly 80% of those convicted of capturing intimate images without consent received a suspended sentence, a fine, or a combination of the two, in 2020, said HRW.
Last year, a Korean court dismissed a US extradition request for a man convicted of running one of the world’s largest child pornography websites after being sentenced to just 18 months in prison for having violates South Korean child protection laws.
The government has been criticized for do not tackle gender inequalities, which analysts say is fueling digital sex crimes.
A female Air Force sergeant committed suicide last month after being sexually harassed by a male colleague and the Air Force reportedly tried to cover up the case. His death sparked a public outcry, forcing Lee Seong-yong, the chief of the air force, to resign.
Despite calls for tougher action following a series of high-profile events #MeToo case involving K-pop stars and senior politicians, little progress has been made in ending abuse of women in patriarchal South Korean society.
The country ranked 102 out of 156 in the World Economic Forum’s 2021 Gender Gap Report, with the greatest gender disparity in economic participation and opportunities of any advanced economy.
According to HRW, South Korean women do four times more unpaid work than men and earn 32.5% less.
“The root cause of digital sex crimes in South Korea is the widely accepted prejudicial views and attitudes towards women and girls that the government needs to urgently address,” Barr said.
* Names have been changed
If you have been affected by anything in this story and need assistance, you can contact Lifeline Korea at 1588-9191.. In the UK, the Samaritans are at 116 123. The US National Suicide Prevention Lifeline is 1-800-273-8255.