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‘It will always be on someone’s computer’: Digital sex crimes haunt South Korean women


High technology in South Korea has incited a wave of digital sex crimes targeting young women and girls.

According to victims, researchers, and advocacy groups, South Korea is the global hub for illegal filming and sharing of explicit photos and videos.

Digital technologies, including high-speed broadcasting and encrypted chat rooms, have provided new means of proliferating Deeply entrenched gender discrimination and dissemination of material depicting sexual violence against women.

“South Korea has, unfortunately, been ahead of the curve in the prevalence, diversity, and severity of digital sex crimes,” said Heather Barr, associate director of women’s rights at Human Rights Watch.

The country boasts the world’s highest rate of adult smartphone ownership and among the fastest internet speeds, with 99.5 percent of households having access to the internet. It was also the first country 5G service launched.

A new Human Rights Watch report based on interviews with victims and their families highlights that crimes typically involve intimate photographs taken and posted by strangers and female acquaintances.

In one case, Lee Ye-rin* discovered that a watch he gave as a gift from her employer had been streaming footage from inside her bedroom for weeks.

“What happened happened in my room — so sometimes . . . in my own room, I feel terrified for no reason,” she said, adding that a year after the crime was discovered, she still relied on prescription medications to combat depression and anxiety.

Kang Yoo Jin*, another victim, was forced to quit her job and move into her home after an ex-partner posted private photos along with identifiable details including her home and office address.

“There were men who wanted to call me at the church my father was attending… and there were men who sent me [messages] to have sex. “There were men who came to my house and my work,” she said.

Researchers note that in addition to the risks of stigma and harassment, suicide is also prevalent.

Oh Soo Jin*, another victim, said, “I am very afraid of my future.” “It will always be on someone’s computer . . .[I thought]I want this to stop but this problem will never go away. . . So if this can’t stop, I want to stop my life.”

While digital sex crimes are a global problem, the report published on Wednesday by the US-based Human Rights Watch also revealed the relatively light penalties imposed by South Korea and the lack of protections for victims of digital sex crimes.

Officials in the criminal legal system – most of whom are men – do not seem to understand or accept that these are very serious crimes. . . Barr said survivors are forced to deal with these crimes for the rest of their lives with little help from the legal system.

Despite increased public awareness and legal reforms, the number of sexual offense cases involving unlawful filming continued to rise.

Last year, students, researchers and police exposed a secret chat room on the messaging app Telegram containing child sexual abuse images. The material has been viewed by 260,000 people, according to an estimate by the Korea Online Sexual Violence Response Center.

According to the Women’s Human Rights Institute of Korea, the number of cases related to illegal photography and distribution of photos and videos reached nearly 7,000 last year, up 70 percent from 2019, demonstrating increased reporting efforts.

But few cases are punishable. Prosecutors dropped 44 percent of digital sex crime cases in 2019, while nearly 80 percent of those convicted of taking intimate photos without consent received a suspended sentence, a fine, or a combination of the two, Human Rights Watch said in 2020.

Last year, a Korean court rejected a US extradition request for a man convicted of running one of the world’s largest child porn sites after he was sentenced to just 18 months in prison for violating South Korea’s child protection laws.

The government has been criticized for Failing to address gender inequality, which analysts say is fueling digital sex crimes.

An Air Force sergeant committed suicide last month after being sexually harassed by a co-worker and the Air Force attempted to cover up the case. Her death sparked a public outcry, forcing Lee Seung-yong, commander of the Air Force, to resign.

Despite calls for tougher action after a string of high-profile figures #MeToo Statuses Involving K-pop Stars And senior politicians, little progress has been made to stop the abuse of women across South Korea’s patriarchal society.

The country ranked 102 out of 156 in the World Economic Forum’s Global Gender Gap Report for 2021, with the largest gender disparity in economic participation and opportunities of any advanced economy.

According to Human Rights Watch, South Korean women do four times as many unpaid work as men and earn 32.5 percent less.

“The root cause of digital sex crimes in South Korea is the widely accepted harmful views and behavior towards women and girls that the government urgently needs to address,” Barr said.

*Names changed

If you have been affected by anything in this story and need help, you can reach Lifeline Korea at 1588-9191.. In the UK, Samaritans are at 116123. The US National Suicide Prevention Lifeline is at 1-800-273-8255.



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