Just like many students, I visited my home country during summer break. Spending time in South Korea with my family with amazing food in a great place — my break was going perfectly. Until an unpleasant experience made me realize how women in my country suffer humiliation on a daily basis.
One day, I met up with my friends in Gangnam, a famous district in Seoul, until around 9 p.m. To use the washroom, I went to the one in Gangnam station. As expected, the washroom was crowded with people since it is a popular place to visit even during the night, which gave me a secure feeling. However, when I went inside the stall, my secure state of mind completely changed. There were about 15 holes on the walls with tape, glue, and gum stuffed in them. I was scared because I knew what the holes meant: spy cameras.
Spy camera pornography is a growing problem in South Korea, and it has increased recently. What happens is, generally, perpetrators go inside a washroom stall and make a hole to put a spy camera that is connected to their phones. After a woman uses the stall, that video gets uploaded on social media, porn sites, or YouTube, revealing the person’s body and identity.
Not limited to only washroom stalls, the tiny cameras inserted in eyeglasses, neckties, and shoes allow perpetrators to commit the crime in public spaces without much difficulty.
In 2010, spy camera crimes that were reported to police were about 2,100. In 2017, it increased to more than 6,500. These crimes are happening constantly, especially in public washrooms, subways, and libraries.
The fact that women must check the walls of public washrooms to block holes has become a very disappointing reality to face today.
What makes it even worse is that detectors cannot easily locate the ever-smaller cameras. So even if there is tape, glue, or gum, there may be more unblocked devices. Women even have to cover their faces before entering a stall with face masks, worried that their image will be uploaded to a pornography site.
The Korean National Police Agency announced that, in 2016, 98 percent of the perpetrators of spy camera were male. Nonetheless, 2 percent of female perpetrators get unfairly higher consequences than the males.
At Hongik University in Seoul, a female student uploaded a picture of a naked male model while he was posing for art class. For this rare case, the police responded very quickly, and she was sentenced to 10 months in jail with 40 hours of therapy for sexual violence.
On the same day, a South Korean guy who posted a naked picture of his girlfriend 37 times received a suspended sentence of two years.
Unless a perpetrator is female and a victim is male, the reaction from the Korean police office is very slow and insincere.
A victim got filmed when she was naked in her own house, located on the 20th floor, by a male on the rooftop of an opposite building. Choi, the victim, shared her experience of being harassed by police, who asked her, “What do you want us to do [about the incident]?” The man was eventually charged with a crime but was let go after only a day.
One of the conceptions many people have when they think about South Korea is safety. In fact, according to the safety index, South Korea is ranked as twenty-third for its safety among 160 countries. It is a high rank, and I am very proud to say that I feel safe walking around at midnight alone outside in my home country.
Even though it is safe to be outside late at night, however, there is this other side of South Korea: humiliation that women are facing in their most private and intimate moments. Korean women are affected to a great extent in their daily lives just because they are women.
Fortunately, women recently stood up together.
On Aug. 4, approximately 50,000 women gathered in Gwanghwamun Square in Seoul. These women protested against the spy camera perpetrators and the unfair consequence for the same crime depending on the perpetrator’s sex. This was a big step forward for feminism and gender equality as it was the biggest female-only protest ever. By this action, the protesters succeeded in informing the government of their suffering.
Moon Jae-in, the South Korean president, stated, “We must make sure that the offenders suffer greater damage than the damage they inflict.”
Additionally, the government planned to spend about $4.5 million for camera-detecting equipment.
I will always remember the day I saw the holes in Gangnam Station. Imagining someone looking through a camera in the holes horrified me. The memory of leaving that washroom stall and calling my mother out of fear will stay forever.
By raising awareness of this issue, I hope future generations will not suffer this kind of humiliation.
Edited by Aditi Deswal