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Reporting on Korean digital sex crimes: Western comparison

Courtesy of Montse PB
Courtesy of Montse PB

By David A. Tizzard

Korea has achieved great fame and fortune for its recent exports: Movies, dramas, smartphones, sport stars, even its response to the COVID-19 pandemic have been given the "K" treatment and packaged for global audiences.

Because of its geographical circumstance, Korea has long been an export nation. Once merely the supplier of cheap t-shirts and shoes, it now fills living rooms, stadiums, and streets all around the world with its cutting-edge technology and brands.

Much of what Korea exports is hyperreal: Expertly packaged, hybrid, and dripping in middle class. This means it is accessible to as wide an audience as possible and thus ensures maximum reception and, ultimately, profits. But global end users of Korea's exports rarely have the country's problems brought to their attention, not least of all the nation's ever present and poorly addressed problem of sex crimes. But, following a recent news report from the UK, the world may now have a window into one of Korea's deeply ingrained problems.

A young South Korean man was this week found guilty of multiple offences of illegally and disgracefully secretly filming young women for his own sexual gratification and pleasure while studying as a university student in Manchester, England.

He pleaded guilty to 22 counts of voyeurism and four counts of attempted voyeurism. Rather than a prison sentence, the judge handed him a three-year community order, 220 hours of unpaid work, and a five-year sexual harm prevention order.

The far-reaching and deep-rooted nature of the hidden camera problem in South Korean society is so widely-reported and discussed that to trawl once more through the shocking statistics seems but an effort in futility. If recent history has taught us anything, it's that it will take art, movie, a book, or a drama to satisfactorily shift the public consciousness and narrative.

But let us instead consider the difference in the media responses abroad and domestically to this event. Now that another Korean phenomenon has found itself the center of international authorship, how is the narrative developed?

The Manchester Evening News which reported the story had nearly 1,200 words detailing the crimes that took place. It also featured three large photos of the young man which left you in no doubt as to who he was. Moreover, the article also featured his name, his age, and the international name he used while studying abroad.

This was not, however, an attempt at defamation or a character assassination: It was simply a newspaper reporting the facts as decided by a court of law.

Compare this then to how some Korean domestic news outlets reported the same story. Every piece that I saw blurred the face of the young man so that he was unrecognizable. Every piece that I saw used a fake name for the guilty man. None of the articles was more than 250 words long.

Now if we consider that hidden camera porn is a desperately serious societal problem in South Korea, how much responsibility does or should the media take for this? Or is it instead related to the country's defamation laws which say that even if one reports the facts, there is still a chance one could be sued for defamation?

It seems both should shoulder some responsibility. And thus unless the country addresses both of these issues, regardless of its cultural achievements, many of the young women who live here will still dream of leaving the country and moving abroad.

They will all have different reasons and motivations for doing so. But the danger in which they live, exacerbated by a society that fails to offer basic protection to its citizens and instead seeks to defend the reputations of those found guilty of crimes rather than the honor of the innocent victims, will be an ever-present factor.

The shame that society places on those needlessly exposed to such shocking behavior should not be underestimated either.

So, despite the horrible nature of this story, perhaps it is a good thing that this has happened abroad? Perhaps now the authorship of how to deal with such cases will be placed in more capable hands?

The way the British media has responded to the case has been clear: The fault lies with the offender and it is his name and image that shall be in the paper and the victims shall be protected.

South Korea needs not follow tired tropes of believing the west to be superior in everything it does: The country can and should chart its own course and achieve its own successes. But in this case, perhaps there is something to be learnt?


Dr. David A Tizzard (datizzard@swu.ac.kr) has a Ph.D. in Korean Studies. He is a social/cultural commentator and musician who has lived in Korea for nearly two decades. The views expressed in the article are the author's own and do not reflect the editorial direction of The Korea Times.




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