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South Korea’s Digital Sex Offenses

Growing up in today’s world, the concept of nudes and sexting aren’t foreign terms to me. And like everyone else in my generation, the dangers of such things are mentioned frequently. Everyone knows that once something is sent through text or posted on the internet, it can NEVER be deleted.

There are three major categories of digital sex crimes, formerly called ‘revenge porn.’ The first is when photos are taken of an individual willingly, but consent is not given for it to be shared. Second is when an image is taken and shared without consent, often with the use of spy cams. The third is manipulated images. In many of these cases, the perpetrators are not just strangers, but people who know the victim. Celebrities are often victims of what we have known as ‘deepfake pornography.’ Some notable examples are Taylor Swift and Kristen Bell. 

As the phenomena of crimes involving non-consensual intimate images, also called digital sex crimes, has increased, so has the danger to women. Except for the difference here is that many of the photos are not taken with the individual’s consent. A survey completed by Human Rights Watch has found that “in South Korea, 80 percent of spy camera sex crime victims are women, and 98 percent of those perpetrators are men.” Yet, there is very little punishment for those committing these crimes. 

Digital sex crimes first came to international attention following the Nth Rooms Incident. In 2018, people impersonating “cyber investigators” were targeting women through accounts on Twitter and other platforms. In “8 different chat rooms, called the Nth rooms,” many underage girls, who were said to be slaves, were victimized. After learning about this situation, one might be curious about the rates of digital sex crimes for adults and children in other developed countries. 

Anger boiled over in South Korea that same year when a woman was charged for sharing an image without the individual’s consent. What caused the six protests that ensued was the lack of charges for men in the same kinds of situations… but when they are the perpetrators. After the glaring illustration of double standards for South Korean women comes the phrase that has personified this movement: “My life is not your porn.” I can’t say I disagree in the least. Neither did the South Korean government, because soon after, they established a center to help victims of digital sex crimes and legislation was imposed to better “expand the range of acts punishable as digital sex crimes and to toughen penalties.”

In the U.S., for example, information is abundant regarding child pornography; yet, the research pertaining to online sex crimes perpetrated towards adults seems to be nonexistent. Some might argue that as the world continues to become globalized and as women continue to be over-sexualized, these crimes may continue in both their incidents and their severity.

When investigating digital sex crime damages, the Seoul Metropolitan Government found that “in 2019, 43 percent of 3,700 women in Seoul experienced digital sex crimes directly or indirectly.”

What makes this even more disturbing is that “digital sexual [crimes] has increased by about 23 times in the past 10 years. Moreover, 45.6 percent of victims of digital sex crimes thought of suicide, and 42.3 percent even made specific suicide plans.”

Some debate that it is because of the ever-present gender disparities within South Korea. While considered a remarkable example of how technology can advance society, the gender disparities are astronomical. For instance, because of strong Confucian influences in the region, a woman’s sexual purity is very important. And by executing these egregious acts, their honor is often considered compromised. 

There are difficulties in pursuing these cases, however. One reason is that bitcoin, an anonymous cryptocurrency, is used largely in these cases, so it is extremely difficult to track. South Korean law is largely based on criminals within South Korea itself. Yet, a majority of the viewers of unsolicited images are using foreign servers.

These incidents have also caused outrage over lenient rulings pertaining to sex crimes overall. According to the London Centrist, “A perpetrator must exercise violence of intimidation for the offense to be recognized as a sex crime, such as molestation or rape” in South Korea. How would digital sex crimes fit into this definition?

Advancements are being made in South Korea. Parliamentarians Baek Hye-ryun and Lee Su-jin are challenging the status quo to reimagine what truly makes up a sex crime. Maybe the U.S. should follow suit… 

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Here at FSU, I am completing a degree in International Affairs with a minor in French. When I'm not in school or working, I love to read and work out. My passions include environmental activism and learning about human rights abuses occurring throughout the world.
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