Have you ever discovered small peepholes in public toilet stalls, fitting rooms, hotel rooms, or any other public place? What were your thoughts? Did you think there were cameras hidden in them? You might have tempted to plug up the holes with tissue, fearing of becoming a victim of an illegal photo or film. In fact, photos and recording are collected and then sold by criminals for about one hundred won each. The victims lose their lives, privacy, and dignity. However, for the criminals, the photos and video-recordings are means of earning income, and for the people who purchase them, they are highly prized commodities and sense of amusement. In this unjust reality, how is it that law enforcement has yet to stop this criminal undertaking?
It Is a Crime
Illegal video-recording is called ‘spycam porn’, and it is a crime according to Article 14 of the Sexual Violence Special Acts. Despite being illegal, this type of criminal activity continues, and the criminals are using loopholes to evade the law. There are more and more illegal videos being posted on the internet without victims’ knowledge. People know it is a crime, but it is committed extensively throughout the Peninsula, and investigations are often delayed or incorrectly handled. Recently, Demonstration for the Unfair Investigation of an Illegal Filming has changed social awareness. Even though the main objective of the demonstration was to denounce unfair investigation against illegal filming crime of male model, women, who participated in the demonstration, also criticized spycam crimes and lenient punishments for criminals. The demonstration helped people realize the seriousness of sexual crimes.
However, there is a bigger issue that goes hidden under the crimes. ‘Unanswered Questions’, a SBS show, brought it to light on July 28 in an episode titled ‘Damage Lingers even though the Victim Dies-the Truth behind Spycam Porn on Webhard'. Through the program, people realized the extent of the spycam problem. After airing the program, the next day, on July 29, one person started the petition entitled ‘Request for Special Investigation into the Business of Webhard Cartel and Digital Sexual Crimes’. The petition received 208,543 signatures, which means Cheong Wa Dae should respond to the concerns outlined in the petition. The petition also specifically stated the names of companies involved in these crimes, which were given pseudo names for the program ‘Unanswered Questions’. The petition also demanded a presidential special investigation, and harsh punishments for the CEOs of the criminal organizations. The TV program lasted only 1 hour, but it has made people take the criminal offence much more seriously.
Illegal Filming, a Lucrative Industry?
Illegal filming and distribution is not the act of one individual. It involves multitude of various people in various fields. To discuss why it continues in society, it is necessary to look at how it operates, from filming to distribution. There is an economical symbiotic relationship between the individuals who take the photos or do the filming and the companies that distribute their work. The individuals upload hundreds of thousands of material continuously and earn a living from doing it. Once the material is uploaded, people download it, paying about one hundred won per download. There are two types of criminal uploaders: “regular uploaders” who upload videos and receive 30% of the profit earned from paying downloaders and “heavy uploaders” who upload large quantities of videos and take 50% of profits. The remaining of the profit is retained by the distribution companies. In other words, distribution companies are the core winners in this industry. Moreover, the companies are loyal to their workers by hiding their tracks from the police, using other means of evading conviction during an investigation. Uploaded materials cost the victims their life, but people are making money from their death.
There remain more problems. When a person discovers they have become a victim, they ask a filtering company to remove all uploaded material of them from the internet. However, last year, during a parliamentary inspection by the Ministry of Gender Equality and Family, it was revealed that there is strong evidence that these filtering companies are working together with illegal distribution companies. That is, they are profiting from victims who pay to have their illegally captured spycam material taken from the internet. Kim Samhwa, Congressperson for the Bareunmirae Party, said, "The more webhard companies distribute illegally filmed videos, the greater the number of videos digital undertakers must work to eliminate. The two are mutually dependent.”1) This statement clearly shows that filtering companies are failing to accomplish their founding purpose. Moreover, a victim who wishes to obtain this filtering service must pay 2,000,000 won a month for six months according to ‘Comprehensive Countermeasures of Digital Sexual Violence Damage Prevention’. In other words, victims are having to pay huge sums of money by themselves to save their lives while their assaulters are profiting.
Also, the punishment given out for those found guilty of distribution of spycam porn is low. Digital sexual violence, especially the distribution of illicit films, occurs everywhere online. It is a crime without borders. Since the illegal footage rapidly spreads, despite being removed from one location, it appears in another. Investigations are restricted. When a distribution company is based abroad, punishment in Korea is virtually impossible. Also, the punishment itself is low. For example, an individual who uploads material regularly and who appeared on ‘Unanswered Questions’ said that he earns, on average, 5,000,000 won a month, but his sentence upon being found guilty of the crime was the payment of 500,000 won. This is only one case, but overall, the punishments are very lenient to digital sexual crimes. According to the ‘Comprehensive Countermeasures of Digital Sexual Violence Damage Prevention’, criminals who are found guilty of spycam recording or distribution of spycam porn are sentenced to less than 5 years or fines of less than 1,000,000 won. Moreover, only 3% of convicted persons saw jail time from 2011 to 2016.2) Without any concrete change in law enforcement, the crimes won’t stop.
Structural Change for Structural Problem
Since most of the problems cannot be solved by individuals’ effort, a macroscopic approach is needed. First, the government needs to develop better and more efficient filtering technology. The link between distribution companies and filtering agencies is currently being operated through the private sector. If the government takes control, the mutually beneficial partnership between the distribution and filtering will be severed. Also, the government should charge perpetrators the cost of implementing the technology of filtering the videos of victims. Korea Communications Standards Commission announced that it would establish an ‘Integrated System for DNA Filtering of Illegally Distributed Videos’ within the second half of this year. Having the government implement a DNA filtering that searches for illegal content will ensure spycam porn is found and removed. In deed, on March 13, new legislation was passed to make digital sexual crime offenders pay for the cost of removing the illicitly filmed videos, and the new legislation has taken effect on September 14. Even though some say more is needed to be done, this new regulation would hold perpetrators financially responsible. It will also reduce the victims’ burden as they will no longer have to pay the huge cost to filtering agencies.
In addition, the government should establish stricter restrictions regarding the distribution of illicit material. The current punishment for digital sexual crime is mild. At the moment, there are pending bills that stipulate if one is found guilty of distributing spycam porn, they will be sentenced to up to five years of imprisonment with no chance of avoiding jail time through the payment of a fine.3) It is certainly important for these types of discussions to occur, but considering the damage of victims, some people insist that a much stronger deterrent is needed. The government has announced plans to push ahead with plan of redemption when a service provider conspires to spread illegal material online. This plan will change the situation where the proceeds of crime is actually larger than the fine. Also, to disintegrate the dealings of spycam porn cartel, the police will execute special investigation into cyber sexual crimes over a 100-day period, aimed at targeting the IDs of heavy uploaders and 30 distribution companies.4) As this is new, results will be known in time. It is hoped that this action will completely disrupt the distribution system.
In a capitalistic society like Korea, demand must be lowered to lower the supply. In other words, to eradicate spycam porn, viewers should be punished as they represent the demand. Viewers of the spycam porn are also criminals, but social awareness of viewing the spycam porn as a crime is weak. Right now, the law states that possession and viewing of spycam porn is not a crime, so it is not punishable. In deed, last May, a concerned citizen started the petition, “Make Laws that Punish Viewers of Digital Sexual Crime (Illegally Filmed Videos and Taken Photos).” The number of signatures, 60,000, fell short of the 200,000, but the number is still significant because it shows the serious lack of law to deal with the problem. Seo Seunghee, Representative of Korea Cyber Sexual Violence Response Center, said, “We are aware of people who consume spycam porn. We are also aware of the fear among women regarding the increase in spycam crimes. Watching illegally obtained material should not be thought of an accomplice but a firsthand suspect.”5) By imposing punishments on the activity, people will be more aware of the fact that what they are doing is illegal.
My Life Is Not 100 Won
“We didn’t have a toilet to go. We didn’t have a place to rest. We didn’t have a country to protect us. So here we are.” These were the words written on one picket at a rally against spycam porn at Gwanghwamun Square. We live in the society where women’s lives are worth a mere 100 won in the porn industry. The damage spycam porn causes is serious, but it keeps happening. To eradicate the problem, there needs to be tougher sanctions against digital sexual crimes through a legislative, judicial, and governmental approach. The government, individual ministries, and the police have started to take action. The movement is not about the money but about respect for human life. Therefore, the movement should be continued until no person’s life is priced at 100 won for others’ amusement or profits.
1) Chung Banseok, “Charlatan Digital Undertakers Cause Victims of Spycam Porn to Cry Twice”, Hankook Ilbo, December 5, 2017
2) Bae Minuk, “Destruction of Life of Female, ‘Digital Sex Crimes’ Spread Like Poison”, JoongAng Ilbo, August 19, 2018
3) Lee Esther, “Service Providers of Spycam Porn to Be Punished, Proceeds of Crime Will Be Retrieved”, JoongAng Ilbo, August 1, 2018
4) Lim Gichang, “’Spreading Spycam Porn’ Police Are Tackling Cyber Sexual Violence by Organizing a Special Investigation Taskforce”, Yonhap News, August 13, 2018
5) You Seungmok, “Are Those that Make Spycam Porn the Only Problems? Viewers of the Material Are Also Criminals”, Moneytoday, May 28, 2018