Trigger Warning: Sexual Assault, Revenge Porn, Spy Camera Epidemic
By Sarah Hong
For anyone familiar with K-pop, the glamorous lives of the Korean celebrities have always been accompanied by a dark side. Both male and female celebrities have sasaeng fans who are obsessive that engages in stalking or other behaviors that invade their privacy; unlike Hollywood stars, most keep their romantic relationships secret because they fear their fans leaving, or even worse, becoming anti-fans and threatening their lives.
In early September of 2018, Goo Hara, an actress and a former member of a South Korean girl group called Kara, was admitted to a hospital after a “two-sided” physical assault between her and her ex-boyfriend, Choi Jong Bum. As you could imagine, the news made the top headline in Korea. Goo Hara’s fans were furious, while some criticized her for scarring her ex boyfriend’s face and “ruining his career”, since Jong Bum is a famous individual in the beauty and fashion industry. In October 2018, a celebrity news website called Dispatch (kind of like TMZ), revealed a screenshot of an email from Hara’s ex boyfriend saying that he has “top secret information” on Goo Hara. Dispatch said that Jong Bum tried to sell and publicize a sex tape of Goo Hara to them.
A couple of days later, a picture of Hara kneeling in front of her ex by the elevators surfaced on the internet - she was begging him to please delete the video. Despite all this, as of now, an arrest warrant on the grounds of blackmail and injury for Jong Bum has been rejected. The judge, Lee Eon Hak, said, “the accused, after receiving wounds to the face that were serious enough to affect his everyday life, became angry and said he would release [media]. There is no circumstance that suggests that the content of the [media] or its explicit nature were to be revealed to a third party. It’s difficult to acknowledge that there are grounds or necessity for an arrest.”
But Hara is hardly the only woman in Korea who had been filmed without her consent. In Korea, because production or selling of porn is illegal, many available Korean “porn” are homemade amatuer videos. In the last 10 years or so, however, majority of them have been videos taken with miniscule “spy” cameras are hidden everywhere, from public bathrooms, motel and hotel rooms, and under students’ desks at schools, so glimpses of (mostly but not always) female bodies can be recorded. According to a BBC article, more than 6,000 cases of so-called spy cam porn are reported to the police each year, and 80% of the victims are women. These videos are then distributed on online pop-up sites that are difficult to track down. Although digital sex crime is not a problem unique to South Korea, the country’s incredible advancement in technology accelerates and broadens the scope of the problem.
To me, the fact that someone as admired as Goo Hara can be threatened to be violated is alarming. If a top celebrity is susceptible to victimization of a non-consensual distribution of her body, and people will disrespect her own will and dignity, then what does that say about how I will be respected? Who says that I will be safe, when an idol, a synonym for a top celebrity in Korea, is not safe? The thought of me potentially having been filmed without my consent terrifies me. I’ve been to so many public spaces in Korea in the past summer - what if my bottom half is somewhere out there, the short clip of me in the bathroom being sold online for $5? I went to different clothing stores’ changing rooms - what if that’s recorded? As I read up on the news, the comments of some netizens (a word for an Internet user, especially a habitual or avid one) sickened me: “doesn’t the police have the sex video as the evidence? I wonder when it’ll debut on the internet.”
Some may say that I’m overreacting. Some may tell me that not all Korean men watch or make these videos. I know they’re right - even in a country as homogenous as Korea, there possibly can’t only be a single type of man. Still, public incidents like this only intensifies my anxiety of ever becoming romantic with Korean men.
They remind me of the Korean boys in my elementary school whom used to tease me about my weight, called me “pregnant ajumma (middle aged woman)”, and say that I’m ugly. A Korean boy whom I dated briefly in high school that raped me. A Korean man in a club in Gangnam who tried to drag me outside when I went clubbing in Korea for the first time. Korean media that judges women’s bodies and deem size 6 to be “fat”; media that labels Kpop female stars who barely weigh 120 lbs to be “not taking care of themselves.” Korea that does not care that Korea’s gender pay gap is the highest among the OECD countries (women make 63% of what men make). Korean culture that always makes me feel so ugly every time I visit my home country. A culture that makes me feel like I’m never enough.
I know that these experiences don’t speak for everyone, but I’ve now been socialized into being cautious and distrusting of my romantic relationships with Korean men. As a Korean living abroad, I long to potentially share a deeper connection with someone from the same culture as mine. There are Korean values and traditions that I revere; I want to raise a Korean family, passing on generations of knowledge unto my children. I want to be celebrating Korean holidays and making traditional foods for my family. Unfortunately, my limited exposure to Korea, specifically with Korean men, makes me hesitant to look for someone Korean. I miss my country. I miss my culture. I miss feeling at home. But in between the alluring charms of Kpop idols and the trendsetting fashion and makeup, I’m not sure who to believe and trust enough to fall in love with.
On November 7th, 1-2pm at IAB 918, Korea Focus is holding a conversation on feminism with Professor Judy Han of UCLA. You can find more information here: https://goo.gl/vk8jEp