More than 270,000 South Koreans have signed an online petition asking for the fair investigation of online and digital sexual violence cases, regardless of the perpetrators' gender, after a female suspect was arrested for secretly taking a photo of her male colleague while he was posing nude for university students, and then distributing it online without the victim’s consent.
Those who signed the petition say that while the authorities’ treatment of the case has been just and ideal, the way they have been dealing with female victims of digital and online sexual violence has been extremely different from the way male victims are treated.
“Women are also citizens of the Republic of Korea,” the petition reads. “In a country where victims and perpetrators are being treated differently according to their genders, no one really is safe including men.”
The 25-year-old female suspect, who is only identified by her last name Ahn, was photographed by reporters as she was leaving a police station after being questioned Saturday. She was eventually brought into custody later in the day.
A female model (second from left) is being questioned by reporters after being grilled by police for leaking a nude photograph of her male colleague at a police station in Seoul on Saturday. She was eventually brought into custody. (Yonhap)
According to 2016 data from the Korean National Police Agency, some 5,184 sexual harassment cases including spy-cam footage -- illegally uploaded video footage created by using hidden cameras in public spaces such as changing rooms in gyms or toilets -- were reported that year. More than 80 percent of the victims were women.
Also in the same year, more than 7,300 requests were made to remove revenge porn -- sexually explicit images or videos of someone uploaded without the subject’s consent, often illegally uploaded by a victim’s ex-romantic partners.
It took South Korean authorities 10 years to shut down SoraNet, a highly popular adult file-sharing site where users -- mostly male -- shared revenge and spy-cam porn; their decision was only made after years of protests by female activists surged against its content.
“I’m not saying the female suspect who leaked the nude photo is innocent,” said Park Jin-young, a 28-year-old professional in Seoul.
“But as far as I remember, I’ve never seen any male suspect being photographed by reporters after being investigated by the authorities. And I know there are countless of them out there, those who have created and distributed secretly filmed footage of women.”
Another woman in her 20s, who only wanted to be identified by her last name Kim, said she was stunned by how “easy” and “fast” the police had tracked down the female suspect.
“I see justice being served to the male victim in the quickest manner possible,” she said. “So now my question is, why hasn’t the same been happening to countless female victims of this specific form of violence? What does this say about our country and its treatment of women?”
Local women’s activists point out that male perpetrators of online sexual violence have indeed been receiving comparatively lax treatment from the authorities.
In December, five professional Korean male swimmers, accused of installing a spy camera in a women’s changing room and secretly filming their female colleagues at the training facility, were found not guilty. The ruling has been questioned by women’s rights activists, as the court’s decision was made although one of the swimmers had confessed to committing the crime.
No public criticism at the scale of that against Ahn -- the suspect of the nude photo leak -- had taken place when the allegation surfaced in 2016.
The presidential office of South Korea is obliged to give a response if more than 200,000 people support a petition within 30 days.
By Claire Lee (firstname.lastname@example.org