South Korea's #MeToo Movement Targets a National 'Epidemic' – Spy Cam Porn

South Korean women are taking back the public space.

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Oct 23 2018, 8:00am

Women attend a protest as a part of the #MeToo movement on International Women's Day in Seoul, South Korea, March 8, 2018. REUTERS/Kim Hong-Ji

It's called "molka," in South Korea and it's been likened to a "social death penalty," that affects thousands of women every year. But the tides are turning against molka—or "spy cam porn"—as South Korea's #MeToo movement spreads to tackle an issue that has made public bathrooms, changing rooms, and even your own bedroom a potential danger zone for years.

Today, it's common in the bathrooms of cities like Seoul to see small pieces of toilet paper jammed into the ends of screws, small holes, or anything, really, that could be hiding a small concealed camera. One woman even sells an "emergency kit" online, complete with a pink ice pick to break camera lenses, stickers warning of the penalties of recording someone without their consent, and silicone to seal up suspicious holes.

That's because much of the porn available online in South Korea falls under the broad classification of molka—a genre that can mean anything from hidden recordings of women urinating to sexual acts secretly videotaped by someone's boyfriend and released later as "revenge porn."

Last June, more than 22,000 women marched on the Seoul neighborhood of Hyehwa in protest of molka. They carried signs reading "My Life Isn't Your Porn," and effigies of the police, who have repeatedly been accused of turning a blind eye to molka cases despite having a law that, on the surface but rarely in practice, criminalizes the practice. (Only 2.6 percent of the men accused of installing spy cams were arrested between 2012 and 2017, according to official data.)


Watch: Inside the Torturous Fight to End Revenge Porn


“Korean women are often told that they are simply too sensitive when they question the status quo, and that they are making themselves uncomfortable to be around,” the protest organizer told the local news site Korea Exposé in an anonymous email.

“We are reclaiming our right to challenge existing conditions that aggravate sexual discrimination. We are raising uncomfortable issues," the organizer continued.

Since then, the city government in Seoul has promised to check women's bathrooms daily for spy cams. In the past, they only checked the bathrooms once a month. A 16-person task force set up with the backing of the national government is also trying to help victims scrub these spy cam recordings from the internet. Hye-jin Ryu, of the Women's Human Rights Institute of Korea, told Reuters that she had received 15,000 requests to remove videos since the task force was set up last April.

"The situation is getting out of hand," Ryu told Reuters. "Since the establishment of the task force, many victims have called and reached out to us."

These requests are likely represent only a small percentage of the overall problem. The state-run Yonhap news agency reported that the number of molka cases had risen fro 2,400 in 2012 to 6,500 in 2017. And those were only the women who both realized they were secretly recorded and successfully filed a complaint with the police.

"These are the people who are trying to hide themselves as much as possible," explained Soo-yeon Park, a vocal campaigner for hasher laws and the founder of the site Digital Sexual Crime Out.

Experts have struggled to explain why, exactly, spy cam porn has become so ubiquitous in South Korea. Some say it's a consequence of banning the production of actual (and consensual) pornography in country as technologically advanced as South Korea. Social media sites like Tumblr became a popular place to find porn after other nonconsensual porn sites like Soranet, where men would upload nude images of women and ask other men to rate them, were shut down. And a lot of users on these sites now just see molka as a more "natural" version of porn that contrasts the stuff made by the industry in neighboring Japan—a fact that has seeped into police handlings of spy cam cases as well.

"This kind of distorted sexual culture is becoming the norm," Sue-jung Lee, a criminal psychologist at Kyonggi University, told NPR.

But it's also a symptom of a society that still struggles with sexism, double standards, and the worst pay gap of all "developed" countries.

A popular K-Pop singer was recently accused of "promoting feminism," when she tweeted a photo of herself holding a phone case that read "Girls can do anything." She later took the image down.

The #MeToo movement as well has struggled to score a big win, especially after the former governor of South Chungcheong province, a man once seen as a future presidential contender, was found not guilty of forced sexual intercourse.

But the decision by several prominent women to come forward with their own stories of sexual harassment and abuse have emboldened women nationwide to directly confront issues like molka—a practice that is now being called an epidemic that can cause very real and long-last trauma for its victims.

"It sends the victims into depression because there is no end to it," Ryu told Reuters. "It is on the internet forever. It's a social death penalty."

This article originally appeared on VICE ASIA.

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