Digital Sex Crimes in South Korea

Summary

This report, based on interviews with survivors and experts, and a survey, documents the spread and impact in South Korea of what are referred to there as “digital sex crimes.”

Digital sex crimes are crimes involving non-consensual intimate images.

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.

Lee Ye-rin’s employer made romantic overtures toward her; he was married, and she was not interested. 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. “I found it strange, so I googled the clock and found it was a special kind,” Lee Ye-rin said.

The clock was a spycam. It had been streaming footage of the inside of Lee Ye-rin’s bedroom to her boss’s cell phone 24 hours a day for the previous month or month and a half. When she confronted him, he asked: “Is that the thing you stayed up all night to google?” He had been watching as she searched.

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.

While talking with Human Rights Watch, she searched in Korean for “clock hidden camera” and pulled up countless pages of different spycam clocks. The perpetrator in Lee Ye-rin’s case was sentenced to ten months imprisonment.

She faced lasting impact from the experience. “I cried all night, I couldn’t sleep, I had to take medicine to soothe myself…Even now this happens,” she said.

“What happened took place in my own room—so sometimes, in regular life, in my own room, I feel terrified without reason.” A year later, she continued to take medication prescribed for depression and anxiety.