Jieun Choi was trying to sleep when someone knocked on her door one night in 2018. It was a police officer, who informed this young South Korean woman that her team had just detained a man who had been filming her through the window for two weeks since roof of a nearby building. As the investigation progressed, more data emerged. Jieun hadn’t been the only victim. Seven other women appeared in the recordings of that stranger. But, despite the fact that all the images had been obtained illegally and the man had a record, the rules in South Korea specify that only those who have been filmed naked can press charges. “I have become paranoid when I am at home. I do not feel secure. I think that someone has installed a camera when I have gone out, or that someone is spying on me from the surroundings ”, Jieun recognizes even today.
Climbing the stairs when wearing a miniskirt, trying on clothes in a dressing room, going to a public bathroom, walking down the street, being in the privacy of the room … In South Korea, this daily life has become a source of anxiety for many women, who fear (as reported by almost 6,800 of them in 2018) of being victims of the so-called molka phenomenon: being filmed with illegal cameras without being aware of it.
“Even if weapons are not used, it is like a murder of the identity or mentality of a person,” says one of the victims, in statements collected by the NGO Human Rights Watch (HRW) in its report My Life is Not Your Porn: Digital Sex Crimes in South Korea (My life is not your porn: digital sex crimes in South Korea), on the psychological trauma and stigma faced by women affected by these crimes, one more form of sexist violence.
In South Korea, those in which private images are shared without the consent of the victim are especially frequent. In most of these acts, the recordings are made with tiny spy cameras, devices that can be found in the South Korean market for ridiculous prices and that are easy to camouflage, not only in public places; In many cases, they are hidden in household items, such as clocks, pictures, hangers or coffee cups.
The contributing factors are twofold. On the one hand, South Korea is among the most digitized countries in the world: 91% of its 51 million inhabitants have internet access. On the other, the advances that this digital development has experienced are light years ahead of those made in terms of gender equality. “We tend to think that more developed countries are less macho, but there are exceptions, and South Korea is clearly one,” says Heather Barr, Acting Co-Director of Women’s Rights at HRW and author of the report.
Traditional Confucian values weigh heavily in a highly hierarchical society in which the position of women is clearly below that of men. According to the World Economic Forum, South Korea ranks 102 out of 156 in its Report Global Gender Gap 2021, the lowest of all major economies. In addition, it continues to be the OECD country with the highest gender pay gap (32.5%) and repeats as the nation with the worst glass ceiling in the annual ranking of The Economist (Only 4% of positions of power in the country are held by women).
These worrying numbers prove why sexist violence is so alarmingly widespread: data from the Hotline for South Korean Women shows that in 2019, at least one woman was killed by a man every 1.8 days and in a In a study conducted by the Korean Institute of Criminology of 2,000 men in 2017, almost 80% of those surveyed claimed to have exercised violence against their partner.
Although uploading sexual images without consensus is a global problem, Barr recalls, the nation that could boast of having the highest proportion of smartphone owners has a trend that, in his opinion, is unique: scenes of women in private for the simple fact of humiliating them and making them feel vulnerable and, in addition, there is economic benefit from sharing them. Figures from the South Korean High Prosecutor’s Office reveal that, in 2008, less than 4% of allegations of sexual crimes involved illegal filming (585 cases). However, in the past decade, complaints of illegal recordings multiplied exponentially, going from 1,100 in 2010 to 6,615 in 2017 and representing 20% of the accusations.
In the summer of 2018, when the message of the #MeToo movement penetrated deeply around the world, Seoul hosted the largest demonstrations in its history in favor of women’s rights. Shouting “My life is not your porn”, South Koreans took to the streets to denounce what has become an integral part of the feminist struggle in the country: the hidden camera epidemic and the dissemination of private videos through Internet. The trigger for the protests was the imprisonment of a girl who had uploaded a photo of a nude model online without her consent, when in the case of men (98% of the perpetrators of these crimes in 2016, according to the Agency National Police), the sentence does not usually go beyond a fine.
The feminist marches led to the approval of legal reforms and the creation of support centers specifically aimed at victims of digital sex crimes, the first of their kind – and probably the only ones – in the world. Despite the fact that the law provides for high financial penalties, activists say that the sentences are much more lax in practice and that, in most cases, the complaints fall on deaf ears. “You often feel more hurt by the response and treatment of the police than by the crime itself,” one of the respondents in the report told HRW.
The NGO calls for immediate action to prevent these crimes and emphasizes the need to educate on equality and to promote mechanisms to feel safe on the Internet. Despite the fact that support services already exist, tens of thousands of women (including those who have not suffered this type of aggression) are overwhelmed by the panic of being recorded, Barr denounces. Insomnia, anxiety, depression, the desire to leave the country and guilt are the feelings that are most repeated among the victims: “The survivors are traumatized in a very particular way, because it is a crime that never ends,” he adds. . Most have seen suicide as a way out of this vexation.
According to the report, lawmakers must determine what is punishable and how much it is, punish social networks that allow such illegal material to spread, and force them to remove that information as soon as possible. Likewise, they must force these platforms to assume responsibility for their complicity – even if it is involuntary – and to provide psychological support to the victims.
In Jieun Choi’s case, his stalker only received a suspended sentence, which he has never served. “No jail, no fine. He has been able to continue his life the same as before, “laments the young woman in the HRW report, where she also complains that South Korean laws” stipulate that the recording must be exciting and humiliating, which is something that blames the victim. [Debería castigarse] simply the lack of consent ”. Jieun believes that the perpetrator will reoffend, “because he has never received punishment.”
For Barr, the solution is clear: there must be more women legislators, judges, attorneys and in positions of power in companies. In South Korea, where proper sex education remains a pending issue and machismo permeates the behavior of the population, the combination of this backward mentality with almost unlimited access to cutting-edge technology continues to cause insomnia in tens of thousands of women.