No Expectation of Privacy: Exposing Surveillance Culture in South Korea

Technology enables and emboldens exploitative sexual behaviour but it can also be used to fight sexual exploitation, Dr. Nancy Kang told seminar participants at Robson Hall on November 20, 2019.

According to the Rape, Abuse & Incest National Network, one American is sexually assaulted every 90 seconds. These sexual assaults have been exacerbated by the use of technology in everyday life. Photos and videos are now regularly shared online as revenge porn. However, technology can help victims fight and overcome their trauma, such as through live chats with online counsellors. A phenomenon that is paradoxically both disease and cure is known as a “pharmakon.” Technology is enabling existing exploitative structures against women while also providing a platform for mobilizing women for a common cause of fighting oppression.

South Korea is deeply entrenched in Confucian values, which reduce the role of women to domestic possessions of men. The country has a high rate of female homicides. In a survey conducted by the Korean Institute for Criminology, 80 percent of men surveyed indicated they have psychologically or physically abused women in the past. Voyeurism is part of everyday life for Korean women because of the prevalence of molka, the secret recording of women through spy cameras installed in fitting rooms, washrooms and other discreet locations. The digital sexual violence is completed when the recorded videos are uploaded onto the internet for sexual pleasure and trolling by male consumers.

Prosecuting these cases is extremely difficult as victims need to show they have been secretly recorded. Penalties often involve short terms of imprisonment, suspended sentences, warnings or minimal fines, none of which indicate the gravity of the offence. Kang stated that “men still take priority over women even when men are perpetrators” because Korean policing and the justice system is male dominated. She said there is a national culture of violence and misogyny in South Korea – it is not unusual for victims to be accused of provoking assault by dressing “provocatively.” Korean movies such as Mother or Tell Me Something have also contributed to the national stereotype of women as objects or victims. They exercebate violence against women by implying men are only capable of understanding trauma through interacting with a women’s trauma. Korean women have gathered in the last year to protest the invasion of their privacy and the country’s patriarchal systems. It is ironic that both the tool of oppression against women and the means of mobilizing women to action is technology.

Chung Soo-young created an anti-molka emergency kit used by many women to block spy cameras in public places and the government hired 8,000 workers to sweep public places for hidden cameras. But Kang said there need to be higher fines and stricter jail terms for perpetrators. Endemic gender bias must be addressed and women should be encouraged to move from “seeking safe places to creating brave places.”

Questions

Are the companies manufacturing the spy cameras regulated?

There is no accountability system.

How difficult is it to conduct research in this subject area?

Accessing pornographic materials can be  an issue for any researchers in this area. To mitigate against possible emotional trauma, a researcher should adopt a clinical approach to viewing materials.

Listen to podcasts from other seminars in this series.

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