South Korea digital sex crime victims facing major barriers to justice: report
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South Korea digital sex crime victims facing major barriers to justice: report

South Korean women and girls who have been victims of digital sex crimes are facing major barriers to justice in the country, Human Rights Watch said in a new report Wednesday.

The report, entitled “My Life is Not Your Porn: Digital Sex Crimes in South Korea” found that digital sex crimes, usually perpetrated against women and girls, are pervasive. In 2017, 20 percent of prosecutions concerning sex crimes related to spy camera digital sex crimes. Spy camera digital sex crimes concern the use of concealed cameras that covertly record persons who are unaware they are being filmed and do not consent to such filming. That footage is then sold by the perpetrator. In South Korea, 80 percent of spy camera sex crime victims are women, and 98 percent of those perpetrators are men.

Other pervasive digital sex crimes identified in the report are non-consensual sharing of consensual images, also known as “revenge porn,” and doctored images used to impersonate victims and smear their reputation, also known as “deepfake pornography.” A women’s reputation is valuable in South Korea; the report noted that women’s societal roles are contingent on their reputation of “sexual purity.” This stems from Confucian patriarchal values.

Barriers to justice were highlighted as a particular concern. The report noted:

Women and girls who have been the target of digital sex crimes face major barriers to justice. Police often refuse to accept their complaints and behave in abusive ways, including minimizing harm, blaming them, treating images insensitively, and engaging in inappropriate interrogation. When cases move ahead, survivors struggle to obtain information about their cases and to have their voices heard by the court. Judges also frequently impose low sentences.

In 2019, prosecution of reported digital sex crimes was more than two times more likely to be abandoned by prosecutors than a robbery case. When such crimes are prosecuted, perpetrators face few repercussions. In 2020:

79 percent of those convicted of capturing intimate images without consent received a suspended sentence, a fine, or a combination of the two. Fifty-two percent received only a suspended sentence … 82 percent of people convicted of distributing sexual images captured and/or distributed without consent received a suspended sentence or a fine or a combination of the two, with the most common sentence (for 53 percent of convicted defendants) being just a fine.

The report acknowledged the South Korean government has taken some action in response to digital sex crimes. Following protests in 2018 across the country’s capital, Seoul, where chants including “my life is not your porn” echoed the streets, the government passed new laws broadening the acts which are digital sex crimes, increasing penalties and creating a center to help survivors.

However, the report found these changes did not go far enough. Using stories of women victims of these crimes, the report detailed the deep trauma they experience. In two of those cases, the women committed suicide. Many others considered suicide. The prosecution process was identified as a key issue given it re-victimizes a survivor by expecting them to “monitor the internet for new appearances of images of themselves, [leaving] them immersed in the abuse.” In addition, when survivors file civil lawsuits, their personal details, including name and address, are made public.