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South Korea: sex, society and reform

By David Tizzard

The recent revelations of a series of privately operated digital chat rooms in which teenagers and young women were operated as "slaves" for the pleasure of more than 250,000 men have rightly incensed the South Korean public. But worryingly this latest scandal seems to be the continuation of a long-standing trend rather than a sudden new development.

The Korean National Police Agency reported an average of 18 cases of spy cam porn per day in 2015. More than 16,000 people were arrested between 2012 and 2017 for being involved in such activities. The cases of Goo Hara and many others still ring in society's ears.

Soranet was the country's largest pornography website and ran from 1999 to 2016, host to more than one million users at various stages. The female co-founder was sentenced to four years in prison last year for aiding and abetting the distribution of obscene material.

The Nth room is a continuation of such trends ― well-known and very visible to most lawmakers and the public. Ultimately, there seems to have been some degree of social normalization of this deviance. That is most worrying.

In 2018, SBS cited the Ministry of Gender and Equality's statistics regarding cases of sexually exploitative videos against South Korean teenagers and children. Perhaps the most shocking thing was not the frequency of which such things occurred, but rather the punishments.

For those found guilty of committing such acts, 7.9 percent were fined, 35.5 percent were sent to prison, and 56.6 percent were given probation. Considering the nature of these crimes, one wonders why most of the perpetrators do not receive any jail time.

For those convicted, Article 14 Section 2 of the law that covers the punishment of sex crimes of a digital nature states that the offenders will face a maximum fine of up to 30 million won or a jail sentence of five years or less.

An important question thus presents itself: are we dealing with a broader systemic societal issue, or just a few despicable individuals?

Distressingly, in a 2018 Macromill Embrain survey, a quarter of male respondents claimed to have personally watched a molka video. Considering the very low likelihood of people admitting to engaging in such criminal behavior, one can only assume the actual total is much greater.

A special team has been formed for the latest revelations to shock the nation, to seek to verify and identify the 260,000 men who labeled as accomplices of Cho Joo-bin for paying and watching the horrendous exploitation of young women.

By naming, shaming, and venting public anger at the heinous actions of those involved are we doing enough? Or are we simply making a public sacrifice of blood while the real problems continue and will require yet more in the future?

What solutions is the country seeking to address this deep-rooted problem? For if there is not deeper and more fundamental change, there will be more victims.

Certainly one has to question the enforcement of the law. That has been brought into stark relief once more with many angered that Judge Oh Duh-shik will preside over the case for one of the Nth room operators.

Judge Oh has previously caused controversy over the seemingly lenient sentences he has handed down to men found guilty (or acquitted) of a variety of crimes. A Blue House petition asking he be removed from the latest case has nearly 300,000 signatures already.

And some of the men that have frequented the Telegram operated Nth rooms have already decided to forgo legal process and seek to take their own lives.

On Friday a man in his 40s jumped off a bridge in Seoul, leaving a note claiming he did not realize the severity of what would unfold. Another man in his 20s drank poison in an attempt to escape punishment.

Many things need change in society and while Covid-19 and economic issues dominate the political landscape more attention needs to be paid to the lenient punishments given out by men to men.

If Park Guen-hy and Choi Soon-sil deserve 25 years and 20 years respectively, what do those guilty of these latest crimes deserve? That deserves serious consideration.

South Korea has to establish stronger laws that are in accordance with modern society, technology, and the crimes taking place. Then, importantly, it has to apply those laws consistently and equally ― without consideration of a person's status, fame, level of intoxication, or family potential.

The gusts of popular feeling have often proven to be the country's judge, jury, and executioner, but for true genuine change to take place, to protect future victims, South Korea needs institutional change. It needs lawmakers and politicians to start taking these issues seriously.

If by law prostitution is illegal in South Korea, then it should be illegal and seen as such by the law enforcement. Having police stations close to known areas of sexual services simply serves to reinforce the idea that the law is applied according to the situation as it unfolds and not with any uniform standard.

Considering that some victims involved in the Nth room scandal were underage, society should also consider the continued images it presents of women (and men) in their 20s and 30s dressed as high-school girls and adopting personas of innocence and subservience. The Lolita complex here is strong and often reinforced by mainstream media, creating fantasy relationships with manufactured idols to be possessed and objectified.

For as much as we like to consider that the users of this Nth room are innately evil and have deep-seated problems that should be removed, it is more troubling to consider that they are a product of this society.

Society creates individuals. And individuals create society.

South Korea must reform across many levels ― from the top to the bottom. This is not to advocate a puritan society where chastity is paramount, however. It is to suggest that what remains of upmost importance is justice, order, and equality.

And there is hope. Because while many might look upon society with a skeptical eye as a result of this case, do not forget that it came to light. And do not forget that it was young students ― rather than the police ― who investigated this and brought it to the public's attention.

Free-thinking citizens of South Korea have demonstrated many times that they are capable of demanding the reforms so desperately required in society. May they continue to do so and have their voices heard. They are the future. And the future should be now.


David Tizzard (datizzard@swu.ac.kr) is an assistant professor at Seoul Women's University and lectures in politics and history and Hanyang University. He presents economic and cultural issues on "Business Now" on TBS eFM (101.3FM) live every Wednesday from 6:30 p.m. to 7:30 p.m.


By David Tizzard

The recent revelations of a series of privately operated digital chat rooms in which teenagers and young women were operated as "slaves" for the pleasure of more than 250,000 men have rightly incensed the South Korean public. But worryingly this latest scandal seems to be the continuation of a long-standing trend rather than a sudden new development.

The Korean National Police Agency reported an average of 18 cases of spy cam porn per day in 2015. More than 16,000 people were arrested between 2012 and 2017 for being involved in such activities. The cases of Goo Hara and many others still ring in society's ears.

Soranet was the country's largest pornography website and ran from 1999 to 2016, host to more than one million users at various stages. The female co-founder was sentenced to four years in prison last year for aiding and abetting the distribution of obscene material.

The Nth room is a continuation of such trends ― well-known and very visible to most lawmakers and the public. Ultimately, there seems to have been some degree of social normalization of this deviance. That is most worrying.

In 2018, SBS cited the Ministry of Gender and Equality's statistics regarding cases of sexually exploitative videos against South Korean teenagers and children. Perhaps the most shocking thing was not the frequency of which such things occurred, but rather the punishments.

For those found guilty of committing such acts, 7.9 percent were fined, 35.5 percent were sent to prison, and 56.6 percent were given probation. Considering the nature of these crimes, one wonders why most of the perpetrators do not receive any jail time.

For those convicted, Article 14 Section 2 of the law that covers the punishment of sex crimes of a digital nature states that the offenders will face a maximum fine of up to 30 million won or a jail sentence of five years or less.

An important question thus presents itself: are we dealing with a broader systemic societal issue, or just a few despicable individuals?

Distressingly, in a 2018 Macromill Embrain survey, a quarter of male respondents claimed to have personally watched a molka video. Considering the very low likelihood of people admitting to engaging in such criminal behavior, one can only assume the actual total is much greater.

A special team has been formed for the latest revelations to shock the nation, to seek to verify and identify the 260,000 men who labeled as accomplices of Cho Joo-bin for paying and watching the horrendous exploitation of young women.

By naming, shaming, and venting public anger at the heinous actions of those involved are we doing enough? Or are we simply making a public sacrifice of blood while the real problems continue and will require yet more in the future?

What solutions is the country seeking to address this deep-rooted problem? For if there is not deeper and more fundamental change, there will be more victims.

Certainly one has to question the enforcement of the law. That has been brought into stark relief once more with many angered that Judge Oh Duh-shik will preside over the case for one of the Nth room operators.

Judge Oh has previously caused controversy over the seemingly lenient sentences he has handed down to men found guilty (or acquitted) of a variety of crimes. A Blue House petition asking he be removed from the latest case has nearly 300,000 signatures already.

And some of the men that have frequented the Telegram operated Nth rooms have already decided to forgo legal process and seek to take their own lives.

On Friday a man in his 40s jumped off a bridge in Seoul, leaving a note claiming he did not realize the severity of what would unfold. Another man in his 20s drank poison in an attempt to escape punishment.

Many things need change in society and while Covid-19 and economic issues dominate the political landscape more attention needs to be paid to the lenient punishments given out by men to men.

If Park Guen-hy and Choi Soon-sil deserve 25 years and 20 years respectively, what do those guilty of these latest crimes deserve? That deserves serious consideration.

South Korea has to establish stronger laws that are in accordance with modern society, technology, and the crimes taking place. Then, importantly, it has to apply those laws consistently and equally ― without consideration of a person's status, fame, level of intoxication, or family potential.

The gusts of popular feeling have often proven to be the country's judge, jury, and executioner, but for true genuine change to take place, to protect future victims, South Korea needs institutional change. It needs lawmakers and politicians to start taking these issues seriously.

If by law prostitution is illegal in South Korea, then it should be illegal and seen as such by the law enforcement. Having police stations close to known areas of sexual services simply serves to reinforce the idea that the law is applied according to the situation as it unfolds and not with any uniform standard.

Considering that some victims involved in the Nth room scandal were underage, society should also consider the continued images it presents of women (and men) in their 20s and 30s dressed as high-school girls and adopting personas of innocence and subservience. The Lolita complex here is strong and often reinforced by mainstream media, creating fantasy relationships with manufactured idols to be possessed and objectified.

For as much as we like to consider that the users of this Nth room are innately evil and have deep-seated problems that should be removed, it is more troubling to consider that they are a product of this society.

Society creates individuals. And individuals create society.

South Korea must reform across many levels ― from the top to the bottom. This is not to advocate a puritan society where chastity is paramount, however. It is to suggest that what remains of upmost importance is justice, order, and equality.

And there is hope. Because while many might look upon society with a skeptical eye as a result of this case, do not forget that it came to light. And do not forget that it was young students ― rather than the police ― who investigated this and brought it to the public's attention.

Free-thinking citizens of South Korea have demonstrated many times that they are capable of demanding the reforms so desperately required in society. May they continue to do so and have their voices heard. They are the future. And the future should be now.


David Tizzard (datizzard@swu.ac.kr) is an assistant professor at Seoul Women's University and lectures in politics and history and Hanyang University. He presents economic and cultural issues on "Business Now" on TBS eFM (101.3FM) live every Wednesday from 6:30 p.m. to 7:30 p.m.




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