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Smarter Responses Needed for Online Abuse in South Korea

Non-consensual Sharing of Intimate Images Linked with Suicide

Women protest to demand stronger government action to fight the spread of intimate photos and footage taken by hidden cameras in Seoul, South Korea, July 7, 2018. © 2018 Ryu Hyo-lim/Yonhap via AP

We only know her as “A,” and she is dead. The court ruled this week in the case of a young woman in South Korea who killed herself after learning she had been secretly filmed in a changing room of the hospital where she worked. She had suffered “nightmares and trauma,” her family said, driving her to an “extreme choice.” Her suicide came three months before her planned wedding.

The man who filmed her was her co-worker, a doctor. The court found evidence of him filming people secretly 31 times over the past two years, in locations ranging from the hospital’s elevator to a children’s nursery to an airport duty free store. He was convicted and sentenced to 10 months’ imprisonment and a 40-hour counseling program for perpetrators of sexual violence. This sentence seems light, considering his crime pushed a woman to end her life. But the maximum sentence for this crime in South Korea is three years of imprisonment, and our research suggests many perpetrators escape with no prison time at all.

The government does provide victims assistance in seeking removal of images from the internet. But a much more comprehensive response is necessary. The government needs comprehensive sexuality education in schools, and to change social norms around online sexual abuse. Victims need better mental health support and legal assistance and access to civil remedies. Police and prosecutors handling these cases should be obliged to treat victims with respect, and more should be women.

Non-consensual filming and sharing of intimate images can have deadly consequences. One US study found 51 percent of victims had had suicidal thoughts resulting from the abuse. Ninety percent of victims of non-consensually shared intimate images are women. Survivors often remain deeply traumatized, knowing that photos once posted on the internet can re-appear at any time. There are few services for these victims, let alone the long-term ones many need.

In South Korea, this issue is particularly acute, with more than 6,500 cases of illegal filming reported in 2017, sparking mass protests by women angry at the government’s sluggish response. But make no mistake ­ this is a global problem, as recently highlighted by the resignation of US Congress member Katie Hill after intimate images of her were published without her consent. Governments around the world are failing to take this issue seriously. Unless that changes, “A” will not be the last death.

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