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These crimes are a form of gender-based violence, using digital images that are captured non-consensually and sometimes shared, captured with consent but shared non-consensually, or sometimes faked. These images are almost always of women and girls. This report explores how technological innovation can facilitate gender-based violence in the absence of adequate rights-based protections by government and companies. One day he bought her a clock as a gift.
She put the clock in her bedroom but later moved it to a different spot in the room. Her boss—after she moved the clock—commented that if she did not want it, he would take it back. The clock was a spycam. Lee Ye-rin learned that the clock was a spycam by finding it advertised online, where it was described as providing perfect footage even in the dark. She said the prosecutor who later worked on the case was amazed that she had been able to find that exact clock online, given how many models there are.
She faced lasting impact from the experience. South Korea, officially the Republic of Korea, is often seen as an economic miracle, based on its rapid economic growth in the period after the Korean War through the present. Traditional Confucian patriarchal values remain deeply embedded in society. Confucianism is a philosophical and ethical system, which highlights social hierarchy and harmony. In the World Economic Forum Global Gender Gap ranking, South Korea ranked out of countries, with the largest gap on economic participation and opportunity of any advanced economy.
South Korean women do four times as much unpaid work as men and face a Gender-based violence is widespread, even compared to the global estimates that 1 in 3 women experience such violence; in a survey of 2, South Korean men, nearly 80 percent of respondents admitted to having perpetrated violence against an intimate partner. South Korea is rare globally in having a homicide rate that is equal for men and women.
Inless than 4 percent of sex crimes prosecutions in South Korea involved illegal filming; by the of these cases had increased eleven-fold, from cases to 6, and they constituted 20 percent of sex crimes prosecutions. Spycams are tiny, easily concealed, and come in different forms including disguised as an ordinary household item such as a clock, calculator, clothing hook, or coffee cup. They are inexpensive and can operate for extended periods on a battery. The overwhelming majority of the people targeted in digital sex crimes are women—80 percent in spycam cases.
The overwhelming majority of perpetrators are male; in98 percent of perpetrators in spycam cases were men.
Digital sex crimes include capturing intimate images without consent, an abuse that happens not just among strangers in spaces like toilets and changing rooms, but also between people who know each other, in workplaces, at schools and universities, and between intimate partners. Cases detailed in this report include a woman who died by suicide after being filmed in her workplace changing room. Other digital sex crimes involve non-consensual sharing of images that may have been captured with consent, but were not intended to be shared, such as images taken by or sent to an intimate partner or images taken of models who consented to being photographed but did not consent to the images being shared or sold.
A third category of digital sex crimes involved faked or manipulated images, often used by perpetrators who impersonate their victim online to attack her reputation, relationships, and safety.
Several survivors faced devastating harm after a perpetrator who knew them well impersonated them online, using faked or manipulated intimate images, in order to smear their reputation. Although not documented in this report, several government officials and service providers also noted that cases of sexual violence increasingly have a digital component, where a rapist may film the crime and share or threaten to share the images online.
Anger over government inaction regarding digital sex crimes boiled over in South Korea inafter a woman was jailed for posting a nude photo of a man while men usually go free in such cases. It also established a center to assist survivors of digital sex crimes. But as this report documents, the steps the government has taken are not sufficient. At the heart of the government response is a failure to appreciate how deep the impact of digital sex crimes is on survivors. Once a non-consensual image has been shared once, or the victim simply fears it might be shared, the fear of the image appearing or reappearing hangs over the survivor indefinitely.
Succeeding in having the photos removed from specific websites provides no sense of security, as anyone who has ever viewed them even for a second could have taken a screen shot and can share that screen shot any time. Any anonymous viewer can save,and distribute the screenshot on any website or websites—from which it may spread uncontrollably.
Survivors of digital sex crimes grapple with trauma so deep that it at times le to suicide, including in two cases discussed in this report. Many others consider suicide. This trauma is often worsened by retraumatizing encounters with police and justice officials, and by the expectation that survivors should gather evidence for their case and monitor the internet for new appearances of images of themselves, which leaves them immersed in the abuse.
Survivors also face stigma which can harm their relationships and access to education and employment. Women and girls who have been the target of digital sex crimes face major barriers to justice. Police often refuse to accept their complaints and behave in abusive ways, including minimizing harm, blaming them, treating images insensitively, and engaging in inappropriate interrogation. When cases move ahead, survivors struggle to obtain information about their cases and to have their voices heard by the court.
Judges also frequently impose low sentences. Government data shows that in the majority of cases where a report is accepted, a suspect is investigated, and once a suspect is investigated that person is usually prosecuted. But available data suggests that prosecutors drop many of these cases.
Inprosecutors dropped When cases move forward, they usually result in conviction; inout of 1, cases involving charges of capturing intimate images without consent that went to trial only 12 resulted in acquittal. But when these prosecutions result in convictions, the sentences are relatively light; in79 percent of those convicted of capturing intimate images without consent received a suspended sentence, a fine, or a combination of the two.
Fifty-two percent received only a suspended sentence. Between the cases where survivors are pressured to drop charges and those dropped by prosecutors and low sentences, the likelihood of any single case resulting in ificant punishment is low.
Inout of 5, perpetrators who were arrested for digital sex crimes, onlyor 2 percent, were imprisoned. Digital sex crime cases resulting in conviction are more commonly resolved with measures such as relatively low fines and mandatory classes, even in situations where there has been deep harm to the victim. The problems survivors face in the justice system are exacerbated by a lack of women police, prosecutors, and judges. Civil remedies such as damages from the perpetrator or injunctive relief are also not effective remedies readily pursuable by the survivors because filing a complaint in civil court would require victims to indicate their names and addresses, making this information available to the public, including to the perpetrator, something few survivors are comfortable doing.
A key part of prevention should be teaching children—and adults—about healthy and consensual sexuality and responsible digital citizenship. This report is based on research including 38 interviews and an online survey. The interviewees included 12 survivors of digital sex crimes, and the father of a woman who died by suicide after being the victim of a digital sex crime.
Human Rights Watch also interviewed officials from the Korean Communications Commission, a former government official who worked on government policy related to digital sex crimes, a detective, and two experts from government institutes, and corresponded with the Ministry of Gender Equality and Families, and conducted 20 interviews with experts outside of government, including service providers, academics, members of the private sector, advocates, and activists. Human Rights Watch also conducted an online survey about the experiences of survivors of digital sex crimes.
The survey was in Korean. It was distributed and shared primarily via social media. It is a convenience sample and is therefore not representative of all survivors of digital sex crimes.
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Respondents were able to complete it anonymously and it asked questions about their experiences of digital sex crimes. In the period between Novemberwhen the survey was launched, and Januarythere were responses. Some of the survivors interviewed were located through this survey.
Human Rights Watch is committed to ethical interviewing and follows procedures deed to ensure informed consent and avoid retraumatization. Interviews with survivors were conducted with careful attention to their privacy, safety, and comfort, usually with only the Human Rights Watch researcher and an interpreter present. Most interviews were conducted in Korean, through an interpreter; a few were in English. One interviewee asked to have a counselor present, one interview was conducted by videoconferencing, and one survivor who was interviewed also provided written information.
Interviewees did not receive any compensation for being interviewed. Where they incurred travel expenses, we reimbursed those expenses. The names of most of the survivors quoted mentioned are pseudonyms, at their request, to protect their privacy. The names of some experts were also withheld, at their request, as they were not authorized by their employers to speak or feared retaliation from the government.
Human Rights Watch repeatedly asked to meet with the South Korean government agencies with responsibilities relevant to digital sex crimes. The Communication Commission met with us, and the Ministry of Gender Equality and Families responded to written questions but did not agree to meet. Other government institutions, including the National Police Agency and Ministry of Justice did not agree to meet. We wrote to all the institutions to which we made recommendations on May 27 and June 2, None replied.
This correspondence is in the annex. Human Rights Watch also requested data from multiple entities within the South Korean government. Some entities provided data, and others helped us to access data from government websites. Other requests, however, did not receive a response within the government-specified time frame of 10 working days or were replied to in a nonresponsive manner. Human Rights Watch also wrote to Google for comments regarding the average time it takes for them to respond to requests to remove non-consensual intimate images from Google search and why images would still appear in search when they were removed from the site where they were initially posted.
Google did not respond to this inquiry. Korean names are written with the family name first and given name second, but some people reverse the order of their names to make them more understandable to foreigners. At the time of the research, the exchange rate was about 1 US dollar equals 1, South Korean won, and we have used this rate for conversions in the text. South Korea is often seen as an economic miracle, based on its rapid economic growth after the Korean War through the present.