Hidden camera porn, known in South Korea as "spycam," or molka, is regarded as a serious problem in South Korea and is blamed for encouraging misogynistic culture. In 2017, South Korea revised laws to strengthen punishment for spycam pornography but this had little impact. Beginning in 2018, outrage over law enforcement's lukewarm and uneven response to spycam spurred women to take to the streets. In August 2018, 22,000 women protested the issue. It was the largest women's protest in South Korean history. [Source: Elise Hu, NPR, March 15, 2019]

Elise Hu of NPR wrote: “The spycam porn epidemic that's gone on for years. Tiny hidden cameras that look like lighters secretly film women in bathrooms, public restrooms and changing rooms in clothing stores, gyms and swimming pools, and “public places like subway stations and during private moments — while they're having sex. The footage of sex acts is considered a "natural porn" that's commonly distributed and profited off of on online platforms, without the victims' knowledge.

“Officially, police estimate more than 6,000 cases of people filmed on spy cams without their consent, each year, between 2013 and 2017. The victims are overwhelmingly women. But most of the time, people aren't aware their images are being traded: A 2018 study by the Korean Women Lawyers Association found 89 percent of spycam crimes were perpetrated by strangers.”

Tiffany May and Su-Hyun Lee wrote in the New York Times: “Many women are calling for harsher punishments for perpetrators, in addition to the removal of hidden cameras. Some said a boys’ club culture permeated the way the police handled these crimes, often letting men go without being charged in cases where there was no physical violence. “It is true that the investigations of our police authorities have been somewhat loose and that the punishments were not too severe even when such crimes were exposed,” South Korean President Moon Jae-in said in May 2018, “adding that illicit recordings should be considered a “serious” and “malicious” crime.” [Source: Tiffany May and Su-Hyun Lee, New York Times, September 3, 2018]

Four Arrested for Spy Camming 1,600 Hotel Guests

In March 2019, South Korean police arrested four people on suspicion of secretly taking videos of about 1,600 guests in hotel rooms and posting or streaming them on the internet. The Korean National Police Agency said mini-spy cameras were set up in TV set-top boxes, hairdryer cradles or electrical outlets in 42 rooms in 30 hotels in central and southeastern South Korea. [Source: Associated Press, March 21, 2019]

Associated Press reported: “A police statement accused the men of earning about US$7,000 in total by posting or livestreaming the video on an overseas-based internet site between last November and early March. If convicted, the two main suspects could face up to seven years in prison, according to police. One of the suspects allegedly installed the cameras after entering the hotels as a guest. The other was accused of launching and managing the now-shuttered website. The other two were allegedly involved in buying the spy cameras or funding the internet site's operation, according to police.

Korea has responded somewhat to the spycam issue with the introduction of female-first parking spaces located closer to shopping centers and “scream detectors” in public bathrooms. [Source: Sophie Austin, 10 magazine, January 14, 2019]

Spy Cam Worries in South Korea

Tiffany May and Su-Hyun Lee wrote in the New York Times: “Many women avoid going to public toilets alone, especially at night. “I have never felt safe about going to public bathrooms ever since I was a college student,” Choi Yoon-jeong, 34, said. “I don’t think the new measures will be effective because finding and getting rid of the hidden cameras in the public restrooms will not solve the problem.” Ms. Choi said it was more important that the authorities find and punish the perpetrators than simply remove the cameras. [Source: Tiffany May and Su-Hyun Lee, New York Times, September 3, 2018]

Laura Bicker of the BBC wrote: “I can remember the first time I heard about South Korea's spy cameras. Just after arriving in Seoul, I was running to the public loo along the river Han while on a bike ride with a friend. "Check it doesn't have a camera in it," she shouted. I turned around and laughed. But she wasn't kidding. Many women have told me that the first thing they do when they go to a public toilet in South Korea is check for any peepholes or cameras. Just in case. [Source: Laura Bicker, BBC News, August 3, 2018]

“The BBC spoke to one woman we've called Kim. She was filmed under the table at a restaurant. He put a small camera up her skirt. She spotted him and grabbed his phone - only to find other footage of her on there, and being discussed by other men. "When I first saw the chat room, I was so shocked, my mind went blank and I started crying," Kim said. She went to the police but reporting the incident made her feel even more vulnerable.

“'Kim' told the BBC she was afraid people would blame her for the intrusion on her privacy "I kept thinking, what would other people think? Will the police officer think that my clothes were too revealing? That I look cheap? "In the police station, I felt lonely. I felt all the men were looking at me as if I was a piece of meat or a sexual object. I felt frightened. "I didn't tell anyone. I was afraid of being blamed. I was afraid my family, friends and people around me would look at me as these men looked at me." The man was never punished.

Soranet: the Platform for Spy Cam Videos

Laura Bicker of the BBC wrote: “Park Soo-yeon founded the group Digital Sex Crime Out under the name Ha Yena in 2015 as part of a campaign to bring down one of the most notorious websites, called Soranet. It had more than a million users and hosted thousands of videos taken and shared without the knowledge or consent of the women featured. Many of the website's spy cam videos were taken secretly in toilets and store changing rooms, or posted by ex-partners out for revenge. Some of the women who appeared in the videos took their own lives. [Source: Laura Bicker, BBC News, August 3, 2018]

“A removed video can continue to pop up on other sites, visible anywhere in the world "It is possible to bring down these videos but it is a real problem because it emerges again and again," says Ms Park. "Distribution is a big challenge. The host sites put forward a defence saying they did not know these videos were filmed illegally. Really? How can they not know?"

“She wants to target the distributors and believes that it needs to be an international effort. "Digital sex crimes are not just a problem in Korea. There have been cases in Sweden and in the United States. But South Korea is so advanced technologically, with the fastest and most accessible internet in the world. "That means these online crimes against women have become a big issue here first. It will not be long before this becomes a big problem in other countries. So we need to work together to solve the issue internationally."

Trying to Crack Down on Spy Cam Crimes

Laura Bicker of the BBC wrote: “The South Korean police have two fundamental problems: catching the criminals, and prosecuting them. Special teams have been inspecting public spaces across Seoul for hidden cameras. But they've never found any. Inspector Park Gwang-Mi has spent two years searching more than 1,500 toilets in the Yongsan area of the city. The BBC joined her on one sweep. She told us she was looking for any holes in the wall where cameras might have been placed. "I'm learning how difficult it is to catch these criminals. The men install the camera and take it down within 15 minutes." [Source: Laura Bicker, BBC News, August 3, 2018]

“Arrests are made - of the 6,465 cases reported in 2017, 5,437 people were taken into custody. But only 119 of those went to prison. That's just 2 percent of those caught. Many South Korean women feel justice is not being done. There have been huge protests in the centre of Seoul, and there will be another demonstration this weekend.

“Park Mi-hye is chief of a special sex crime investigation team for Seoul police. She told the BBC it's difficult to track down those using foreign servers. "The distribution of this type of pornography is often not punished overseas. So even if it's illegal in Korea, it can't be investigated if it is legal in foreign countries or circulated on foreign sites. "Even when we close down the webpage, they can tweak the web address a little and open the site again. We keep track of each change of address, but their methods continue to develop.

“"The punishment for these crimes is also not severe. Right now the penalty is one year in prison or a fine of 10 million won (US$8,900; £6,900) for distributing illegal footage. I think it would be helpful to raise the level of punishment. "Most importantly, there must be a change in people's perceptions. In order to eradicate this kind of illegal crime, people have to be made aware of the impact on the victim." You could argue the awareness is now there. Thousands of women are once again ready to take to the streets to cry "my life is not your porn" this weekend in the fourth such protest this year. They believe it will take harsher punishments, higher prosecution rates and better methods of detecting this crime to tackle this rising problem. Until then, we will all be checking our changing rooms in case we are being watched.”

8,000 Workers in Seoul Check for Bathrooms for Spy Camera.

Tiffany May and Su-Hyun Lee wrote in the New York Times: “In hidden corners across South Korea, tiny cameras are surreptitiously recording thousands of women when they are at their most vulnerable. Women have come to fear that cameras could be anywhere: perched inside the toilet bowl of a public restroom, disguised as a smoke detector in a shop’s fitting room, even rolled into a plastic bag at the lip of a trash can. In Seoul, the capital, the proliferation of such hidden cameras — and the images they record, which often end up on pornographic websites — has often been described by reporters as an epidemic. [Source: Tiffany May and Su-Hyun Lee, New York Times, September 3, 2018]

Seoul “announced a crackdown, increasing the number of municipal employees assigned to search public bathrooms for hidden cameras to 8,000 in October from the 50 currently at work. “It is to help citizens to feel safe when they use the public restrooms, free from concerns about spy cams,” the Seoul Metropolitan Government said in a statement. The city has promised to inspect every one of its 20,554 public restrooms daily, an enormous undertaking that underscores the scope of the problem.”

Beginning in October 2018, workers checked “more than 20,000 public restrooms, in subways, parks, community centers, public gyms and underground commercial arcades. A thousand public restrooms have been placed on a “special monitoring” list, so that “female safety guards can do intensive checks,” according to the government.

“The government’s previous attempts to locate hidden cameras have been lackluster. Currently, most toilets are inspected only once a month, and government inspectors have not discovered a single recording device in the past two years. Perpetrators, the police said, often leave devices in place very briefly, perhaps for only 15 minutes at a time.

“Women’s rights rallies in Seoul in May and June drew thousands of protesters. Women said the hidden cameras are but one 21st-century form of harassment. They are also the subjects of so-called revenge porn, in which private photos are shared on the internet by jilted lovers, and “upskirting,” in which perpetrators use smartphones to photograph women’s crotches while in public places.

Groping and Sexual Assaults on Seoul Subways

Reporting from Seoul, Jung-yoon Choi wrote in the Los Angeles Times: “Hong Ji-min cannot forget that crowded, morning rush-hour commute when she felt someone groping her. "I knew that someone did it on purpose, but it had happened so fast," the 25-year-old nurse recalled. "I couldn't do anything but look around with angry eyes. But there was no way I could identify the person in that sea of people." [Source: Jung-yoon Choi, Los Angeles Times, August 17, 2011]

“Seoul's vast subway network carries 6.4 million passengers daily. And although the rail cars are generally crowded, the morning and evening commutes are notorious, called a "hell ride" by many because it is a clammy, claustrophobic ordeal. During rush hour, an increasing number of female passengers have been the target of groping and other sexual crimes. The number of such offenses skyrocketed nearly 80 percent between 2009 and 2010, to 1,192 cases from 671, according to transportation officials. This year, 600 cases have been reported through the end of July. The assaults have resulted in women demanding to know what the government is going to do.

Sophie Austin wrote in 10 magazine: “In 2017, 1,094 sexual assault crimes were reported on Seoul’s metro, a 30 percent increase from” 2015. “These women have been the subject of volatile behaviour, including uncomfortable staring, having their hair sniffed, having their bodies inappropriately touched, verbal abuse, physical abuse and being followed after leaving the subway. Korea has responded in a number of ways with the introduction of” losed-circuit television “saturated areas on subway platforms and an app called “Subway Safekeeper”, which allows passengers to report assaults and/or harassment. They’ve also put in place posters with warnings and emergency contacts. [Source: Sophie Austin, 10 magazine, January 14, 2019]

According to the Korea Times, the Seoul city government installed surveillance cameras inside all subway trains by 2012. Two cameras were set up within each compartment. Their recordings could used as evidence for crimes. To minimize controversy over privacy infringement, station employees and subway engineers can not watch entire camera recordings but will only use them after an incident. “We’ll also put notices inside train cars that surveillance cameras are in operation,” an official said. [Source: Kim Rahn, Korea Times, September 1, 2011]

Women-only Subway Cars in South Korea in Response to Groping

In August 2011, Seoul city introduced a plan to designate women-only subway cars as a way of dealing with gropings and sexual assaults against female commuters. Because reaction to the proposal was mixed, the restriction were applied only on late at night trains. Jung-yoon Choi wrote in the Los Angeles Times: “Crowded Asian neighbors such as Japan, India, Taiwan and Indonesia operate women-only subway cars — to mixed reviews. In Japan, for instance, such subway cars began running in 2000 but have not resulted in a significant decrease in sexual offenses, officials say. [Source: Jung-yoon Choi, Los Angeles Times, August 17, 2011]

“In 1992, South Korea briefly ran women-only subway cars during rush hour but eventually discontinued the program after male passengers began disregarding the rules and boarded the exclusive cars. This time around will be different, say transportation officials, who plan to start with two women-only cars after 11: 30 p.m. on one of the nine subway lines. A security guard will also be posted aboard to make sure male commuters don't flout the ban.” One line of reasoning behind the proposal was that women are “more vulnerable in the later hours after they have been drinking, said Shin Man-cheol, a Seoul metropolitan transportation official. "We're hoping that this will reduce sexual crimes at night," he said.

“Activists have mixed reactions to the city's plan for separate cars for women. "We believe that separating women and men won't solve the fundamentals of the problem," said Lee Seon-mi of the Korea Sexual Violence Relief Center. "To really tackle the problem, you need to understand the crimes. General education is more important." In a recent survey of 3,000 male and female subway riders, 55 percent agreed with the idea of female-only cars, while 45 percent disagreed. Many women welcomed the idea, but others doubted the effectiveness of the new policy.

"When it's crowded, I always have felt uncomfortable to brush against strangers, although I know people don't do it intentionally," said Kim Eun-hye, a 24-year-old office worker. "At least this might solve that problem at late hours." But another passenger worried that deviants will now know where to find female subway victims. "I will use it when I'm coming back home really late," said Byeon Sun-young, a 29-year-old teacher. "But I'll be afraid that in the future there will be criminals specifically targeting the female-only cars at the late hours." Hong, the nurse, believes that female passengers who don't take the women-only cars might be seen as setting themselves up for abuse. "Would the women be criticized if they are harassed while not riding the women-only cars then?" she asked. Male commuters are also knocking the concept. "I think it is outrageous to have female-only cars," posted one male Internet user. "How about the elderly and families with young kids? How about male-only cars? What would be the limit?"

The plan was ultimately scrapped. In 2016, women-only subway cars were introduced to Pusan. Pink signs were placed all over Pusan’s stations. These signs were still there in 2019 but the effectiveness of women-only subway cars at that was unknown. At that time, when the #MeToo movement was in full swing, Seoul was again taking about introducing women-only subway cars, for a third time. [Source: Sophie Austin, 10 magazine, January 14, 2019]

“Sheriffs” Combat Gropers on Subways

September 2011, the Seoul city government said it was setting up special patrol unit to hunt down gropers and other sexual criminals on subways. Kim Rahn wrote in the Korea Times: “The city government said that it will dispatch a total of 171 “subway sheriffs” to various subway stations by 2012 aiming to prevent sexual crimes committed on the public transportation. “Those sheriffs will wear plain clothes during the morning rush hour, mingling with commuters, so that they can’t be identified. They will mainly work on platforms but when seeing a suspicious person, they will board the train to catch him red-handed if he acts strangely,” a city official said. [Source: Kim Rahn, Korea Times, September 1, 2011]

“After the morning rush hour and before the subway operation finishes at around 1 a.m., they will wear uniforms while patrolling stations, cracking down not only sexual violence but also other activities such as disturbing public order and drinking or smoking on subway trains. Each sheriff will be equipped with an extendible baton and a digital camera. The city recently selected 75 sheriffs, including three women. Half of them are former policemen, soldiers, or bodyguards, the city official said.”

They started work in October 2011 after training, and 75 more were to be hired in 2012. “The police unit responsible for subway transport only employs 104 policemen. Among the total 292 stations, they are dispatched to 16 stations where crimes frequently occur. The sheriffs are expected to complement the unit’s duties,” he said.

K-Pop Sex Scandals and Sexual Exploitation of Women in K-Pop

Associated Press reported: South Korean pop songs, TV dramas and films are hugely popular in Asia and beyond, but the country’s entertainment world has in recent years suffered a series of sexual scandals that revealed its dark side. Male stars have faced allegations of sexual assault and abuse and reports have been made that female entertainers and trainees have been forced to provide sexual services to men in power.” In November 2019, K-pop musician and actress Goo Hara was found dead at her home in Seoul. Before her death, she suffered cyberbullying after she was engaged in a public dispute with her former boyfriend, who she said threatened to disclose a sex video of her.” A month earlier, another K-pop star, Sulli, was discovered dead at her home. She had spoken against the online backlash she received over her lifestyle.” [Source: Associated Press, November 29, 2019]

David Tormsen wrote in Listverse; K-Pop “female trainees are traded by brokers and are allegedly brought to bars and forced to engage in sexual work to get ahead, even if they are still minors. One ex-trainee claimed in an interview that the going rate for a “meeting” with a female trainee was US$220, while very young trainees, or those signed with a prominent label, cost between US$700-900. In 2010, Taiwanese singer Estrella Lin claimed that when she was a member of girl group 3EP Beauties, her agency bartered her body to potential investors. She said this is an open secret throughout the Korean entertainment industry, and actresses and singers are expected or forced to give sexual services in order to get advancement opportunities. In 2002, Jang Seok-woo, CEO of Open World Entertainment, was arrested for not only sexually abusing female trainees, but encouraging male idols in his employ to do the same. Aphrodisiac substances were administered to trainees, some of whom were underage. Open World Entertainment would go on to issue a public apology for “causing disappoinment,” with a conspicuous absence of any reference to the victims of the abuse. [Source: David Tormsen, Listverse, May 19, 2015]

Sexual Blackmail on Online Chat Lines

In recent years attention in South Korea has been focused on the growing problem networks on clandestine online chat rooms that lure young women with promises of high-paying jobs online and then exploit them sexually. Choe Sang-Hun wrote in the New York Times: “Some estimates in the local news media say that up to 300,000 paying customers use these online chat rooms, in which operators go so far as to provide tailor-made footage for individual customers that often include extremely dehumanizing sex scenes, the police say. [Source: Choe Sang-Hun, New York Times, March 25, 2020]

“In recent years, the South Korean police have been cracking down on pornographic file-sharing websites as part of international efforts to fight child pornography. As they did so, they said they soon realized that much of the illegal trade in pornography was migrating to online chat rooms on social media messaging services like Telegram. Telegram has become popular among many South Koreans who believe that such encrypted messaging apps help protect their freedom of speech. But the widening police investigation showed that such apps have also become important vehicles for the sex trade.”

In September, 2019, “police arrested a chat-room operator known as “the Watchman.” He turned out to be a 38-year-old office worker. Last month, the police arrested 66 people involved in the operation of other online chat rooms.” South Korean President Jae-in Moon “promised a full investigation and stern punishment. He urged the police to investigate the customers of the chat rooms” who “often used cryptocurrency payments to throw the police off their trail, investigators said. Lee Jung-ok, the minister of gender equality and family, said that the government was working to further increase punishment for sexual crimes online.

Leader of Sexual Blackmail Ring Jailed for 40 Years

Cho Ju-bin, leader of an online sexual blackmail ring in South Korea called 'Nth room', was sentenced to 40 years in prison. Hyonhee Shin of Reuters wrote: Cho, 24, was found guilty of running an online network that blackmailed at least 74 women, including 16 teenagers, into what authorities called "virtual enslavement" by forcing them to send increasingly degrading and sometimes violent sexual imagery of themselves between May 2019 and February 2020. The Seoul Central District Court sentenced Cho for violating criminal and child protection laws by making and releasing pornography and running a criminal organisation, Yonhap said. [Source: Hyonhee Shin, Reuters, November 26, 2020]

"The defendant had lured and threatened multiple victims in various ways to produce pornography and distributed it for a long time to many," Yonhap reported, citing the unidentified judge who handed down the verdict and sentence. "He in particular inflicted irrecoverable damage to many victims by publishing their identifies." The case sparked a national outcry, with millions of Koreans signing petitions urging authorities to release Cho's identity and investigate not only the organisers, but also participants of the network who paid as much as 1.5 million won (US$1,360) to see the abusive videos and images. Police have said at least 124 suspects have been arrested and 18 operators of chat rooms on Telegram and other social media, including Cho, were detained following investigations into similar sexual crimes since late last year.

Choe Sang-Hun wrote in the New York Times: Cho “shared such illegal video footage since late 2018 through members-only chat rooms he operated on Telegram, an encrypted messaging service popular in South Korea, the police said. Mr. Cho, who went by his online alias “The Doc,” attracted female victims with fake job offers online and then lured them into making sexually explicit video clips, promising them a big payout, the police said. Once he got hold of the compromising images, he used them as a blackmailing tool, threatening to release them online or to their friends and relatives unless the women supplied increasingly dehumanizing and even violent footage. In the videos, some of the victims had the word “slave” marked on their bodies, local news media reported. [Source: Choe Sang-Hun, New York Times, March 25, 2020]

“But “The Doc” had proved particularly elusive as he pursued his lucrative trade, luring customers with “trailer” clips on Telegram chat rooms and charging them more when they demanded more sexually explicit or perverted video clips, investigators said. When the police finally caught him, “The Doc” turned out to be Mr. Cho, an ordinary looking graduate of a two-year vocational college in Incheon, west of Seoul, who once was his campus newspaper’s editor in chief. Mr. Cho has lived a double life, volunteering for a charity that aids handicapped or poor people, according to the local news media. The police also apprehended a dozen accomplices, including young men in their 20s who were serving in government agencies as part of their mandatory military duty. Investigators were also looking for another anonymous chat room operator known as “GodGod.”

K-Pop Stars Imprisoned for Rape and Sharing Videos of the Victims

In November 2019, K-pop singer-songwriter Jung Joon-young and former boy band member Choi Jong-hoon were found guilty by a South Korean court of illicit sexual relations with a woman who was unable to resist because they were too drunk to do so. “The accused perpetrated sexual crimes against multiple women, degrading women and treating them as mere tools of sexual pleasure,”Judge Kang Seong-soo said in his verdict. “It’s hard to fathom the pain the victims must have suffered.”

Associated Press reported: The Seoul Central District Court said singer-songwriter Jung Joon-young received a six-year prison term and former boy band member Choi Jong-hoon a five-year term. The court said in a statement that they were convicted of committing “special quasi-raping,” which it said means multiple people collaborating to have illicit sextual intercourse with a person who was unconscious or unable to resist. Jung was additionally convicted of filming sex videos of women against their will and sharing them with friends in a group chat. Their scandals roiled South Korea’s entertainment industry earlier this year when the investigation began. [Source: Associated Press, November 29, 2019]

Choe Sang-Hun wrote in the New York Times: “During their trial, Mr. Jung and Mr. Choi, both 30, said that the sex acts, which took place in 2016, had been consensual. But the court ruled that the women had been drunk and unable to resist. The court has not said how many victims there were. Both men broke into tears as they were escorted back to jail after the sentencing, the news agency Yonhap reported. They have a week to appeal. [Source: Choe Sang-Hun, New York Times , November 29, 2019]

“The police began investigating the matter early this year, after it was reported that Mr. Jung, along with other members of an online chat group, had bragged about drugging and raping women and had shared surreptitiously recorded videos of assaults. The police have not said who originally came forward with the information, citing regulations meant to protect whistle-blowers. But South Korean news outlets have reported that it was a worker at a shop where Mr. Jung sent his smartphone in hopes of retrieving lost data.

Elise Hu of NPR wrote: “Police say the near-dozen participants in the Jung chatroom were sharing hidden camera footage of sex with drugged and unconscious women. Korean broadcaster SBS showed the leaked text exchanges, which include Jung responding to a video of one unconscious woman by texting in Korean, "You raped her, LOL." Korean wire Yonhap reports Jung is under investigation for secretly recorded and shared videos of his own sexual encounters with at least 10 women he filmed between 2015 and 2016. [Source: Elise Hu, NPR, March 15, 2019]

Jung said in a statement: "I admit to all my crimes. I filmed women without their consent and shared it in a social media chatroom, and while I did so I didn't feel a great sense of guilt... More than anything, I kneel and apologize to the women who appear in the videos who have learned of this hideous truth as the incident has come to light." The other men who have apologized and suddenly retired from the industry after being implicated in the chat rooms are Choi Jong-hoon, singer from FT Island, and Yong Junhyung, singer from Highlight, who admitted that he was in the chat and saw the videos and did not speak up.”

Revenge Porn and the Suicide of 28-Year-Old K-pop Star Goo Hara

In November 2019, just six weeks after Sulli’s death, her close friend Goo Hara, member of K-pop group KARA, was found dead in her home in Seoul. She was 28. A maid reportedly found her unresponsive and called police, who said they found a handwritten note at her home. On the day before her death Hara posted an image of herself to Instagram, showing her staring at the camera from beneath blankets on her bed with a message of “Good Night.” Police say a note was found at the scene in which she expressed hopelessness. [Source: Daniella Scott, Cosmopolitan, November 28, 2019]

Daniella Scott wrote in Cosmopolitan: “Hara was a member of four-person K-pop group, KARA, which disbanded in 2016. Hara had since been working as a solo artist and appeared on a number of TV shows. The deaths of Hara and Sulli so close together have prompted people to question the reality of life for a K-pop star. Hara made headlines a number of times last year after an ex-boyfriend claimed she had assaulted him. She then accused him of threatening to release a sex tape of her. She was subject to a barrage of vicious messages and online abuse as a result of this dispute. Then, in May of this year a friend reportedly found her unconscious in her home and she was hospitalised.

“A Japanese agency named Production Ogi have since released a statement on behalf of Hara's family asking for privacy; "Family members and friends of Goo Hara are deeply shocked and anxious at the moment. ‘Therefore, we earnestly request that you refrain from writing speculative articles and spreading rumours. In addition, we ask the media and fans to refrain from making condolence calls." Police have yet to release further details and stated that the cause of death in currently under investigation.

Goo Hara’s Suicide Sparks Discussion on Revenge Porn, Sexual Assault

Koo Hara’s suicide prompted calls for South Korea to overhaul laws on sexual assault and to more harshly punish revenge porn. Jihye Lee wrote in Bloomberg: “Many in South Korea were already aware of her past that included assault by a former boyfriend who she alleged was threatening to release a sex video of her. The two most popular hashtags on social media in South Korea this week called for punishment of the ex-boyfriend and for the definition of sexual assault to be revamped. [Source: Jihye Lee, Bloomberg, November 29, 2019]

“A petition filed with the president’s office demanding changes to laws had one quarter of a million signatures. Lawmakers said it is time to push forward measures stalled in Parliament that make it easier to impose harsh penalties on those who engage in revenge porn or clandestinely take sexually charged videos. Liberal lawmaker Lee Jung-mi of the minor Justice Party said in a social media post that Koo’s death shows that change is needed because the nation “cannot neglect illegal filming and circulation of videos.” Lee in September 2018 introduced a bill to revise how South Korea’s criminal law defines rape. She said recent verdicts on sexual crime show the current standards don’t focus on consent but how much “resistance” there was from the victim.

Some of those who are fighting for changes to the laws say they are frustrated with the pace of change. “The current justice system sends a message to women that it will never be able to protect them,” said Yun Dan-woo, a writer and and women’s rights activist. Some recent cases illustrate critics’ concerns. In May 2018, a male judge ruled that a man wasn’t guilty of raping a woman who walked to a motel with him, according to the Law Talk legal journal and local media. Surveillance video presented as evidence showed the man pulling the woman. The judge acknowledged she had rejected sex but ruled this wasn’t a case where she was in danger, the reports said.

“In a case in November, a male judge found a man not guilty of rape even though he had sex with a woman against her will. The judge ruled she gave consent by holding hands and giving the defendant an extra piece of meat at a restaurant, according to the legal journal and local media. In Koo’s case, a judge found her boyfriend guilty of assault yet acquitted him of illicitly filming Koo and trying to blackmail her.” Afterwards,, “dozens of people rallied in front of the Seoul District Court, demanding that the judge in the case resign.

“Although the laws on clandestine recording could be applied to revenge porn — posting without permission explicit images of individuals that may be taken in acts including consensual sex — that sort of prosecution is almost unheard of in South Korea. More than 40 U.S. states have laws banning the practice as do other countries. Proponents of more stringent measures say they want to act now while Koo’s death is fresh in the public mind and may give a push for change. “Korean society has this misconception of rape of always being done by some random monster who comes out of nowhere in a dark alley at night, which is why it doesn’t acknowledge that someone close and intimate is more likely to be the perpetrator,” said Claire Park, an activist at the Korea Sexual Violence Relief Center.

South Korean Diplomat in China Involved in Sex Scandal

In 2011, several South Korean diplomats became embroiled in a sex scandal involving their alleged Chinese mistress. The case centered around a Chinese woman named Deng Xinming, whose photograph with South Korean diplomats was published in South Korean newspapers under the headlines "South Korean Diplomacy fell a prey to the lust."

Hyung-jin Kim of Associated Press wrote: “South Korea is investigating several diplomats accused of trading government documents for sex with a Chinese woman while posted at the country's consulate in Shanghai, officials said The Foreign Ministry and the prime minister's office say they are probing at least four officials over the scandal, which was splashed across the front pages of South Korean newspapers on Wednesday. [Source: Hyung-jin Kim, Associated Press, March 9, 2011]

“The officials, including the former consul general, allegedly gave the woman unspecified government documents in return for sex and authorities are reviewing whether the documents were confidential, according to an official at the prime minister's office. They also allegedly used their influence to help Chinese nationals introduced by the woman get South Korean visas in a smoother, speedier manner, the official said on condition of anonymity because the investigation was still under way.

“Foreign Minister Kim Sung-hwan said the probe began after the government received a tip, but he did not elaborate. South Korean media reported that the Chinese woman's South Korean husband alerted authorities. Kim said the government also planned to launch an investigation into the entire Shanghai consulate. "I'm apologizing for causing the people anxieties over an unsavory incident," Kim told lawmakers during a parliamentary committee meeting.

Image Sources: Wikimedia Commons.

Text Sources: South Korean government websites, Korea Tourism Organization, Cultural Heritage Administration, Republic of Korea, UNESCO, Wikipedia, Library of Congress, CIA World Factbook, World Bank, Lonely Planet guides, New York Times, Washington Post, Los Angeles Times, National Geographic, Smithsonian magazine, The New Yorker, “Culture and Customs of Korea” by Donald N. Clark, Chunghee Sarah Soh in “Countries and Their Cultures”, “Columbia Encyclopedia”, Korea Times, Korea Herald, The Hankyoreh, JoongAng Daily, Radio Free Asia, Bloomberg, Reuters, Associated Press, BBC, AFP, The Atlantic, The Guardian, Yomiuri Shimbun and various books and other publications.

Updated in July 2021

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