Women gather to protest biased investigations into hidden-camera incidents

Posted on : 2018-05-21 18:03 KST Modified on : 2019-10-19 20:29 KST
More than 12,000 women rally outside Hyehwa Station
Women gathered in front of Hyehwa Station on May 19 to protest the unfair treatment by investigative authorities of illegal photography and hidden-camera crimes. Police arrested the perpetrator of the Hongik University hidden-camera incident
Women gathered in front of Hyehwa Station on May 19 to protest the unfair treatment by investigative authorities of illegal photography and hidden-camera crimes. Police arrested the perpetrator of the Hongik University hidden-camera incident

Red headbands, red clothing, red pickets [. . .] on Saturday, red was the color women used to express their rage.

At 3:30 pm on May 19, more than 12,000 women, all dressed in red clothing, gathered outside exit 2 of Hyehwa Station in Seoul. The participants at the demonstration, which was organized to denounce an alleged bias in police investigations into illegal photography, chanted slogans such as “Male victims get swift investigations but female victims are refused an investigation,” “Let’s have fair investigations” and “The same punishment for the same crime.”

This demonstration has been getting attention for a number reasons – not only because it was attended by the most people of all the demonstrations and protests that have been held since the #MeToo movement took off but also because of what it symbolizes and how it was organized.

Long-time observers of the issue of women’s rights say this should be taken as an opportunity to reflect seriously about the collective emotional response from women that was evoked by the Hongik University nude model hidden camera incident, as well as the reasons for that emotional response.

This demonstration was organized by an online café on the Daum portal site (called “Protest to Denounce Biased Investigations into Illegal Photography”). The café was set up on May 10, two days before the police arrested a 25-year-old female model surnamed Ahn, the criminal suspect in the Hongik University nude model hidden camera incident.

As of May 20, about 10 days after the café was set up, the café had 27,000 members. The café members claim that the investigation has moved forward so quickly because the victim of the incident is a man.

Ahn was arrested just 12 days after a controversy arose about naked photos of a nude male model (Ahn’s colleague) that were posted on an internet community called Womad on May 1. This has led café members to argue that the press and police jumped on the case so quickly because the victim is male.

Café members promoted the event on SNS with posters they had made that said, “It took 17 years to shut down Sora.net [a website featuring spy-cam footage and revenge porn] but just 7 days to occupy Hongik University” and “As if you’re going to investigate foreign websites!” They also raised funds for the demonstration in an open chatroom on KakaoTalk that allowed anonymous conversation. People also posted photos proving they had donated to buy food for demonstrators, such as pizza, fried chicken and kimbap. This group that had met anonymously was able to arrange a huge demonstration attended by more than 10,000 people in just over a week.

Demonstration not connected to any specific group

“Our understanding is that this demonstration is not connected with any women’s groups or other civic groups,” said a spokesperson for the Korea Cyber Sexual Violence Response Center, a civic group that supports the victims of illegal photography.

Despite lacking any kind of organizational background, the café members moved with a swiftness and nimbleness that matched their anger. In areas such as Busan, East Daegu, Daejeon and Gwangju, they even chartered buses to bring people to the site of the demonstration at Hyehwa Station. The organizers told the police they expected 2,000 people to show up for the demonstration, but more than 2,000 people were already there before it even began. The demonstration was originally limited to the sidewalk, but around 4 pm that day four lanes from Ewha Intersection to the Hyehwa traffic circle were all blocked off. The demonstration ended up bringing out six times more people than expected.

Experts believe that the shared feelings of fear and revulsion for spy cam photography brought the demonstrators out to Hyehwa Station. “Other kinds of sexual violence are immediately apparent to the victim. But hidden cameras are more frightening because you don’t know you’re being filmed. Leaking the footage also has a greater impact on women than other kinds of sex crimes,” said Lee Jin-hui, a visiting researcher at Seoul National University’s Institute for Gender Research.

“There have been demands for change since the #MeToo movement began, and the hidden camera issue became something of a watershed moment. The hidden camera phenomenon triggered an explosive outburst of rage about the fact that women aren’t treated with human decency in their lives,” said Lee Mi-kyeong, director of the Korea Sexual Violence Relief Center

In response to the demonstrators’ claim that investigations are biased by gender, experts argued that we should focus on how these collective emotions were formed. “There were some exclusionary aspects of this demonstration, such as the fact that only biological women were allowed to participate, but this needs to be seen as an expression of women’s anger at having been excluded from a male-centered power structure. Setting aside whether their claims are right or wrong, we need to focus on the reason they gathered together,” said Park Jin, a full-time activist with the Dasan Human Rights Center.

“Other aspects of this demonstration that demand our attention are the fact that it ignited the ‘rage’ of the masses, and not of the existing activist groups, and the fact that it took the form of direct democracy, of people raising their voices about the reality that has kept them down since the candlelit rallies,” Park added. Essentially, problems that no one was addressing drove women to organize autonomously and anonymously.

There have also been continuing complaints about a society that has failed to take action about hidden cameras, which have been a serious issue for nearly two decades now. “Without exception, women cannot get away from the fear of hidden cameras. If South Korean society had meted out appropriate punishment for hidden camera crimes, these women wouldn’t even be talking about gender bias in investigations,” said Lee Jin-hui.

“Also impressive were the elaborate measures taken to apprehend the leaker just a few days after the [Hongik University nude model hidden camera incident] and to protect the victim. The question must be asked why it is only now that such measures have been taken and the victim has been protected,” the Korea Cyber Sexual Violence Response Center said in an earlier statement. This investigation, in other words, has caused an outburst of dissatisfaction with powerful institutions – including the investigating authorities, the judicial branch and the press – that have failed to respond to women’s complaints about hidden camera footage.

These observations were backed up by participants in the demonstration. “Several times I’ve seen men entering women’s high schools without permission and loitering there. The fact is that I don’t even feel comfortable using the school bathroom because of the fear they’ve set up a spy cam there. My feeling is that a lot of people have a similar level of fury,” said a high school student who attended the demonstration at Hyehwa Station on the previous day.

“Even when women who have been photographed against their will collect the evidence themselves and take it to the police, they’ve been told that it’s not possible to find the perpetrator. But seeing the Hongik University case, I got to thinking that the police can catch the perpetrators if they try,” said a woman who participated in the Moonlight Walk that was held near Sinchon Station on the evening of May 19.

Members of the feminist group Fire Femi Action gather near Seocho Station on May 19 to celebrate the 2nd anniversary of their launching and to march for the cause of making streets safer for women at night. (Yonhap News)
Members of the feminist group Fire Femi Action gather near Seocho Station on May 19 to celebrate the 2nd anniversary of their launching and to march for the cause of making streets safer for women at night. (Yonhap News)

Illegal photography and hidden-camera crimes have increased sevenfold over past few years

According to statistics provided by the Korean National Police Agency, the number of crimes involving illegal photography, including hidden cameras, has increased sevenfold over the past few years, from 1,134 in 2010 to 7,623 in 2015. There were 26,654 victims of illegal photography, consisting of 84 percent women, 2.3 percent men, and 13.7 percent whose gender could not be identified because of the camera angle and other reasons. In short, the majority of victims are women.

By Jang Soo-kyung, Park Hyun-jung and Jung Hwan-bong, staff reporters

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