- Illegal filming in South Korea increased 11-fold from 2007 to 2018, said an HRW report.
- Women are often "immersed in the abuse" and expected to do their own investigations into crimes.
- Perpetrators who are convicted usually handed light sentences, said the US-based human rights org.
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South Korean victims of digital sex crimes are expected to gather their own evidence for their cases and are left responsible for monitoring the internet for images and videos of themselves, a new report from Human Rights Watch found.
The report, based on 38 interviews and an online survey, was released Tuesday. It found that the country's handling of digital sex crimes was "not sufficient" and may actually be retraumatizing victims.
This leaves them "immersed in the abuse," it said.
It detailed three types of digital sex crimes in South Korea: the use of spycams on victims in places like toilets, changing rooms, schools, and workplaces, footage taken consensually but leaked without permission, and faked or manipulated images.
"Digital sex crimes are a new form of crime. They are fast to evolve while the law is a little bit slower to prevent or punish. You make a law regarding crime A. They invent crime B… We will always be slower, but we are making efforts," an expert with the government told HRW.
Cases involving illegal filming in the country shot up 11-fold from 585 cases in 2008 to 6,615 in 2017, it said.
It added that around 80% of victims of these crimes are women, and 98% of perpetrators were men.
But the report also highlighted that South Korean women often face "major barriers to justice" in these cases.
It said prosecutors drop many digital sex crime cases - 43.5% in 2019 compared to 27.7% of homicide cases and 19.9% of robbery cases dropped - and that judges frequently impose low sentences on convicted perpetrators.
Though most cases that reach a verdict have resulted in convictions, the majority of sentences involve fines or suspended sentences. Only 2% of perpetrators arrested for digital sex crimes in 2019 were imprisoned, according to the report.
Long-term trauma for survivors
Meanwhile, victims of these cases face trauma "so deep it at times leads to suicide," which occurred with two cases profiled in the HRW report.
Lee Ye-rin, a South Korean digital sex crime survivor who spoke to the watchdog, discovered that a clock gifted by her boss was actually embedded with a spycam that filmed her while she was in her bedroom for a month and a half.
She said that when she reported the crime, a male officer interrogated her for four hours about what she had been doing in her bedroom. She also said she was often not informed of the status of her case.
Her employer was eventually caught and jailed for 10 months, but Lee told HRW that she was still taking medication for depression and anxiety.
"What happened took place in my own room - so sometimes, in regular life, in my own room, I feel terrified without reason," she told the organization.
HRW urged the South Korean government to create a commission to "review the appropriateness of current sentences and remedies for digital sex crimes," give more funding to services that help victims, and increase the number of women in legal and law enforcement, among other recommendations.
Gender issues and abuse against women have taken the spotlight in South Korea in recent years. The country has been plagued by numerous sexual assault cases committed by politicians, K-pop stars, and high-profile figures.
South Korean President Moon Jae-in has vowed to make Korea safer for women, pledging to increase the representation of women in the cabinet and close the pay gap in the labor market.