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The Peninsula

Korean Women Protest Epidemic of Spy Cam Crimes

Published July 10, 2018
Category: South Korea

By Su Yeon Ham and Soyeon Kim

The issue of so-called “spy cams” is making headlines these days in South Korea. “Spy cams” refers to filming people in public or private places like toilets or the subway without their permission. Spy cam crimes have been one of many sexual related crimes women face in South Korea. However, it has gained more attention recently because of the recent “Hongdae spy cam” case. Someone secretly filmed a nude male model during a drawing class at Hongik University – the number one fine art university in South Korea – and posted the video online. The police quickly investigated the case and caught the criminal within 10 days. The culprit turned out to be a female model who was taking the same class.

However, women were surprised by how quickly the police rushed to solve this spy cam case. They claimed that the only reason it was resolved so quickly was because the victim was a man. In most spy cam cases, the victims are women, but few of them get the attention or resolution that the Hongdae case received. Therefore, the Hongdae spy cam case sparked a larger conversation on the issue of gender inequality in South Korea. On June 9, about 22,000 South Korean women marched through the streets of Seoul protesting against illegal filming and photography, and called for unbiased investigations and gender equality. This protest was reportedly the largest female protest in South Korean history.

The type of camera used in these hidden camera crimes can be easily purchased through websites that people commonly use. There are also a wide variety of types, including ones that are so small they are almost invisible. These cameras can be attached to glasses, screws, tie pins, and even fountain pens. This is why many people are angry – victims have no chance to protect themselves when a camera could literally be hidden anywhere. Even though such hidden cameras are often misused, Korea has no regulations on their sale. The fact that anyone can buy it without any special procedure and that anyone can become a victim without realizing it make the situation even more serious.

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In addition, criminal punishment has often been too weak because there is no readily apparent physical damage. Under current law, in the case of filming or proliferating pictures or videos taken against a victim’s will, the perpetrator is punishable by up to five years in prison or fines up to 10 million won ($8,900). Distributing such images for the purpose of profit is punishable by up to seven years in prison or a 30 million won ($27,000) fine. However, in reality, spy cam crimes and disseminating the pictures or video go unpunished in most cases.

In April 2018, more than 200,000 people signed a petition demanding a ban on sales of hidden cameras and stronger punishments for hidden camera crimes. In response, on June 15, the Blue House announced that it would introduce a registration system for manufacturing, importing and selling disguised cameras. Moreover, the government plans to dedicate five billion won ($4.5 million) toward eradicating these crimes; the Ministry of Public Administration and Security, the Ministry of Gender Equality and Family and the National Police Agency will check 50,000 public washrooms around the nation in hopes of discovering and destroying any hidden cameras. On July 3, President Moon Jae-in called for tougher punishment for hidden camera crimes, including notifying perpetrators’ employers of their misconduct. He asserted that we must make sure perpetrators suffer a greater disadvantage than the damage they inflicted.

Hidden camera crimes are constantly taking place everywhere, including in the subway, in public toilets, on the stairs, and so on. Spy cam criminals are getting more sophisticated and intelligent with subminiature cameras. Considering the growing number of spy cam crimes, more severe punishment and countermeasures are urgently needed.

Su Yeon Ham is a current intern at the Korea Economic Institute and Soyeon Kim is a former intern. The views expressed are the authors’ alone.

Image from user kmr280 on Naver Blogs.

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