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Court rules taking pictures of women in revealing clothes not sex crime

A 36-year-old man who was indicted for secretly taking pictures of women using his smartphone at Beomgye Station in Anyang, Gyeonggi Province, from April to May was sentenced to eight months in prison with two years of probation. However, he received a “not guilty” verdict for taking a total of 16 photographs containing women’s entire bodies, rather than specific body parts such as legs.

From April to May, the man sneakily took pictures of body parts of women, mostly wearing revealing clothing, such as miniskirts or shorts, at the subway station almost every day. The police found a total of 58 photographs on his phone. Among them, 16 of the photos were of the women’s entire bodies, while the rest were of the bare legs of the women.

According to Article 13 of South Korea’s Act on Special Cases Concerning the Punishment of Sexual Crimes, a person “who takes pictures of another person’s body, which may cause any sexual stimulus or shame, against the latter’s will by using a camera or other similar mechanism, or who distributes, sells, leases or openly exhibits or screens such pictures so taken shall be punished by imprisonment for not more than five years or by a fine not exceeding 10 million won ($8,520).”
A subway station in Seoul. Yonhap
A subway station in Seoul. Yonhap

In explaining its decision to only punish the criminal for taking pictures of specific body parts but not entire bodies, the Seoul Northern District Court said it was illogical to interpret a woman in her summer clothes in the summer months as being a “body that may cause any sexual stimulus or shame,” as more women choose to dress casually and less conservatively. They said taking such pictures of a woman’s body as a whole is a matter related to portrait rights.

However, Lee Soo-yeon from the Korean Women’s Development Institute said sneakily taking pictures of women, regardless of which body part, is problematic and should be banned.

“Regardless of what it is -- the entire body or particular body parts -- secretly taking photographs of women is voyeuristic,” she said. “The government should do more to prevent such practices, by educating the public on why it is wrong to take pictures of someone else without that person’s consent.”

Meanwhile, the Ministry of Gender Equality was criticized during the National Assembly inspection last month for its campaign ad against sexual harassment using smart devices in public transportation. The ad encouraged women not to wear miniskirts, or to cover their legs if they do, when riding the subway, but failed to denounce taking photographs of someone in secret, said Rep. Lim Su-kyung from the New Politics Alliance for Democracy. “Such ads are based on a notion that when a woman gets sexually harassed, she must have done something to deserve it. Now this is very problematic,” she said during the audit last month.

By Claire Lee (dyc@heraldcorp.com)

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