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06/10/2018 Special > Opinion


[Op-ed] Hidden Camera Epidemic

Proliferation of spy cameras in public spaces


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More than 12,000 women from different cities gathered in front of Hyehwa Station in Seoul on May 19th. Chanting slogans such as “fair investigations” and “the same punishment for the same crime,” the protest reflected the collective emotional response from women that were triggered by the Hongik University male nude model hidden camera incident. The perpetrator of the incident was arrested just 12 days after the crime, whereas for incidents victimizing females, even when evidence is "collected and taken to the police,” they are said to be “impossible to find the perpetrator.” Such uproar comes from a deeply rooted mix of fear and distress that most South Korean women face everyday regarding hidden camera issues.
Hyehwa Station protest on May 19th against supposedly biased investigation processes, after the Hongik University male nude model incident.
(Photo courtesy of Yonhap News) 

The South Korean government censors all obscene materials including hardcore pornography. As it is illegal to distribute porn or any explicit display of sexual acts or body parts, there is an alarming amount of hidden camera (spy cam) footage or revenge porn (filmed with spy cams) online. Such illicit footage is often shot discreetly without the consent of the participants with smartphones or cameras, and are distributed without their knowledge. The problem has been aggravated over the years by the availability and accessibility of miniature cameras that come in all shapes and sizes.

The proliferation of spy cam footage and revenge porn has always been an issue. In 2004, the government advised all cellular phone manufacturers to disable the muting of the shutter sound for camera phones in order to prevent inappropriate pictures being taken in crowded public places. However, around 2010, spy cameras became easily available for average citizens thanks to the advancement of technology.
According to a miniature camera dealer in Yongsan, cameras in the form of smartphone cases, business card wallets, car keys, water bottles, and lighters are popular. There are even miniature cameras with night vision so one can film in the dark without being caught. Such cameras cost from around 100k won to 250k won, and one can film for about 3.5 hours max.
(Photo courtesy of Yonhap News)

According to statistics provided by the Korean National Police Agency, the number of crimes involving illegal photography and clips have increased sevenfold over the past few years, from 1,134 (2010) to 7,623 (2015), consisting of 84 percent women and 2.3 percent men. In 2018, 1,288 suspects in hidden-camera cases caught in January through mid-May were nearly all men. Such data naturally drives women to pick up defensive habits to protect themselves from sexual predators, such as scanning the corners of public bathrooms, and checking holes and nails in unusual spots. Of course, the issue does not solely target women, as men are also victimized at times as seen in the cases of Sogang University, Korea University, Sungkyunkwan University, and Hanyang University (ERICA campus), where males using restrooms also fell victims to hidden cameras.
Starting from May 17th, 100days of concentrated crack down on female-targeted sexual crimes began, while the police partnered with universities such as the Hanyang ERICA Campus, for hidden camera inspections of campus bathrooms.
(Photo courtesy of

The fear does not just come from becoming a victim, but that the footage taken in all kinds of places may be shared on social media. Such footage is so difficult to take down, that out of 15,000 removal requests the Korea communications commission received over the past three years, only 3.7 percent (570) were erased. For some victims, they end up in prostitution after losing their jobs and social status, forced to spend about three million won each month to keep the contents off the internet.

It seems that the aggravation of the issue has three main causes. First, the problem is that spycam or revenge porn is seen as just another genre of porn catering to different tastes, instead of as a criminal violation of women’s privacy. Supply and demand always have a correlation, and to prevent this, thorough sexual education on these subjects is definitely needed. Second, there needs to be a more specified legal definition of obscenity, allowing a stronger crackdown on, enforcement of, and punishment for these types of crimes. Lastly, awareness needs to be raised in order to prevent unhelpful police officers who fail to suffice the victims’ needs. Thankfully, legilation that would force perpetrators to pay for all the costs of deleting the footage they had spread, among other amendments, are in the process of being implemented in hopes of strengthening the prevention of and the prosecution process of digital sexual crimes. 

Park Joo-hyun 
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