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Spy cameras help Peeping Toms go on the prowl

A 31-year-old middle school teacher has been convicted of sexual harassment for using his mobile phone to record about 240 women largely in the school and on subways for more than two years.

He was caught secretly photographing a woman under her skirt on the stairs of a Seoul subway station. Police found more than 500 indecent video files saved on his memory card. Victims included students, parents and even female teachers he knows well.

The teacher was dismissed from his post immediately. In May, he received a suspended sentence of 10 months in prison and 40 hours of education on sexual violations.

The incident shocked his colleagues and students, who never thought he was a pervert. Normal in appearance and everyday life, he told investigators that he was driven simply by curiosity.

Fast-developing technology has enabled spy cameras to be installed inside phones, wristwatches, neckties, belts, bags, shoes, pens and even cigarette lighters.
Police in Gimhae, South Gyeongsang Province, confiscated on Monday video recorders installed in a lighter (top photo) and a shoe from a man, who used them to secretly photograph women.(Yonhap News)
Police in Gimhae, South Gyeongsang Province, confiscated on Monday video recorders installed in a lighter (top photo) and a shoe from a man, who used them to secretly photograph women.(Yonhap News)

These gadgets enable voyeurs to act on their sexual urges. Thriving markets online for those images give the criminals a chance to earn money from them.

Light punishment, lack of regulation and legal loopholes are blamed for the rise of Peeping Toms with covert cameras.

In May, a man in his 40s was indicted for covertly filming 221 women in eight years. The offender identified by his surname Kang made a tiny hole in his shoe and hid a micro-camera inside it, later posting the photos and video clips on a website. He was not detained.

“It is scary,” said Shin Soo-jeong, a 34-year-old woman. “After I heard about the criminal method of hiding a camera inside shoes, I am always wary of men around me on the subway when I wear a skirt.”

Restrooms and public baths have long been easy targets for rigging cameras up on the ceiling and wall. Sophisticated technologies make the devices increasingly hard to detect and produce photos of higher resolution.

A 43-year-old coffee shop owner installed an automobile black box camera inside the restroom last year. The motion-sensing camera recorded over 900 people. He was indicted earlier this year.

“Snapping shots of female body parts belongs to a type of sexual perversion in psychology,” said Lim Joon-tae, a professor of police administration department at Dongguk University.

“Those who are mostly men in the category of voyeurism satisfy their sexual desire by collecting underwear or other belongings of females about whom they fantasize,” he said.

The offenders are likely to be introverted.

“Lacking confidence, they think they are unattractive to women. And they feel more thrilled and ecstatic from such abnormal behaviors than having an actual interaction,” said Gong Jung-sik, a professor at criminal psychology department of Kyunggi University.

As voyeurism is very addictive, they are highly likely to repeat offenses.

The coffee shop owner had been fined in 2005 and given a suspended sentence in 2008 for similar sexual crimes.

“When they succeed once, they feel enraptured. They tend to dig a deeper hole and look for a new target,” Gong said.

Sexual crimes using the mobile phones have been increasing dramatically. The number has jumped fivefold from 231 in 2004 to 1,054 in 2010, according to the National Police Agency. Overall sexual crimes increased 10-fold from 2002 to around 20,000 cased in 2010, meaning around 55 people, mostly women, fell victim per day.

As technology develops, more sophisticated and subtle devices are manipulated for peeping.

Devices such as wristwatches equipped with a micro camera and a pen-type camera can be bought easily both online and offline. Some of them have an infrared camera that allows video recording in the dark. They cost around 200,000 won ($175) to 400,000 won.

At one hidden camera store in Busan, which runs three other stores in Daegu and Seoul, they sell five gadgets a day, adding up to 150 a month.

“We are almost out of stock. They are selling like hot cakes around this summer season. The brand new glasses-type camera is the most popular these days,” said the owner who wished to be unnamed.

Police data shows that these sexual crimes occur more frequently in the summer season. In 2010 around 6,400 cases were reported from June to August, which is 30 percent more than those that occurred from December to February.

Legal loopholes are blamed on the increase of such crimes. It is not illegal to sell spy cams and there are no regulations currently to curb the misuse of the high-tech equipment.

For example, the government recommends smartphone makers to have their devices play a shutter sound automatically when taking a photo or recording a video. However, it is not mandatory and the function has been rendered almost useless by applications that mute the sound. Some apps even show a blank screen when taking pictures or the original background images of their phones.

The current law states that those who take pictures of others’ body parts without consent can be jailed for up to five years and be fined with 10 million won ($8,700). However, in most cases if the violators are a first-time offender, express remorse and are not considered to be a danger to society, they are usually not detained and just fined with much less than 10 million won.

“Considering the suffering that victims experience, the law is not strong enough to make the Peeping Toms realize that they are committing serious crimes,” Lee Sang-hyun, an emeritus professor at police administration of Dongguk University.

Not only sexual gratification, but chances to sell the images online and earn a considerable amount of easy money also motivate the criminals.

“They take those pictures for their own sexual pleasure, but at the same time they do it because they can make money. High unemployment could be linked to the pervert behavior,” the professor said.

Since the crime is committed most of the time without victims’ notice, it is not easy to catch the criminals.

The Seoul Central District Prosecutors’ Office analyzed 100 crimes in which cameras were used. The results showed 70 victims did not realize they were the targets of the crimes.

Experts recommend if one feels strange then the person should warn the suspect directly.

“Avoiding or ignoring the situation gives more pleasure and lets criminals do the same thing or even more perverted things next time. And asking for help by pointing out a certain person around themselves is important,” Gong said.

Around 80 males in their 20s and 30s were held accountable for the criminal cases in the analysis. The majority of the perpetrators were office workers and students.

Around 80 victims, most of whom were in their 20s, wore either a short skirt or short dress.

“Warning signs should be put on the subway or public places where people crowd. Separate cars only for females and males on the subway can be seriously considered,” said Kim Jin-suk, director of the female and juvenile victims department of the Seoul Central District Prosecutors’ Office.

More frequent surveillance in and around blind spots is required, too.

“There should be more security measures like frequent patrols by policewomen in changing rooms or women’s restrooms,” Kim said.

But enforcing stricter laws cannot be a cure-all, according to other experts. They say it is important to make the violators realize voyeurism is a mental illness, which is curable with proper treatments and medicines.

“Helping them recognize a sense of guilt and sympathize with the victims, along with drug therapies can correct their behavior,” Gong said. 

<관련 한글 기사>

상상도 못했던 곳에 '몰카'가...혹시 나도?

31살의 한 중학교 선생님이 2년이 넘는 기간 동안 학교 및 지하철 등지에서 240명이 넘는 여성을 휴대폰으로 촬영하여 성추행으로 유죄 선고를 받았다.
몰래 한 여성의 치마 밑을 촬영하다가 적발된 그는 500여 개의 부적절한 동영상을 가지고 있었고, 피해자 중에는 학생들, 학부모들 그리고 동료 여선생님들도 포함되어 있었다. 이 사건으로 선생님들과 학생들은 큰 충격에 휩싸였다. 
빠른 기술의 발전으로 손목시계, 넥타이, 펜, 라이터 안에도 몰래 카메라를 설치할 수 있고, 찍은 사진은 온라인 시장에서 활발하게 거래 되어 범죄자들은 성적 욕구를 만족 시킴과 동시에 금전적 이득도 얻을 수 있다.
신수정(34)씨는 너무 무서워요. 심지어 신발 속에도 몰래 카메라를 숨긴다는 얘기를 듣고 난 뒤에는 치마를 입고 지하철을 탈 때마다 남자를 조심하게 됩니다.”라며 두려움을 드러냈다.
화장실과 공중 목욕탕도 몰래 카메라를 설치하기 쉬운 장소이다. 기술이 발전되어 몰래 카메라를 찾아내기는 힘들어지고, 화질은 점차 좋아진다.
경기대 범죄 심리학과 공정식 교수는 범죄자들은 낮은 자존감을 가지고 있으며, 여성들과의 실제적인 교류보다는 비정상적인 행동에서 흥분을 느낀다”고 설명했다. 그는 이어 범죄를 성공한 뒤에는 계속해서 새로운 대상을 찾게 된다”며 이러한 범죄의 중독성을 우려했다. 
위처럼 휴대폰을 이용한 성범죄는 급격히 늘어나고 있다. 경찰청 통계에 따르면, 2010년에는 1,054건으로 231건인 2004년보다 5배 가량 증가했고, 총 성범죄도 2010년에 2만 건으로 2002년보다 10배 가량 증가했다. 또한 6월부터 8월까지 보고된 범죄는 6,400건으로 12월부터 2월까지 보고된 양보다 30퍼센트 많아, 여름철에 이러한 성범죄가 더 빈번하게 일어남을 보여준다.

이에 비해 허점 있는 법과 부족한 규제는 성범죄를 증가시킨다는 비난을 받는다. 몰래 카메라를 파는 것은 불법이 아니며, 정부가 의무화한 휴대폰 촬영음도 소리를 없애주는 앱들로 인해 거의 무용지물이다.
현재 법적으로는 동의 없이 타인의 몸을 촬영했을 때는 5년의 징역과 천 만원의 벌금이 부과되지만, 초범이고 죄를 뉘우치면, 구금되지 않고 천 만원보다 훨씬 적은 양의 벌금만을 내게 된다.
동국대학교의 이상현 명예교수는 피해자들이 입은 피해에 비하여 법이 강력하지 않아 범죄자들이 이러한 범죄의 심각성을 느끼지 못한다”고 말했으며 성적인 만족과 함께 돈도 벌 수 있어, 높은 실업률이 범죄와 연관되어 있을 수도 있다”고 덧붙였다.
이렇게 몰래 카메라를 이용한 성범죄는 피해자들이 알지 못하게 일어나므로 범죄자를 잡는 것은 쉽지 않은 일이다.
서울 중앙 지방 검찰청은 카메라를 이용한 100개의 범죄를 분석한 결과 70명의 피해자가 자신이 범죄의 대상이었다는 사실을 알아채지 못했다.

서울지검 여성아동범죄부의 김진숙 부장 검사는 지하철과 같이 사람이 많은 공공장소에 주의 문구를 부착해야 하며, 성별에 따른 지하철 칸의 구분을 심각하게 검토 중이다”라고 밝혔다. 또한 여성 탈의실과 화장실에 여경찰들을 배치하는 방안이 필요하다고 덧붙였다.

하지만 다른 전문가들은 법적 강화만이 해결책은 아니라고 말한다. 그들은 가해자들이 관음증은 정신 질환의 일종이고, 치료가 가능하다는 사실을 인식하는 것이 중요하다고 설명한다.

By Kim Young-won (