A South Korean woman was jailed for taking nude photos of an unsuspecting stranger. But the court’s decision sparked a massive outcry. Source: South Korean Police.
A South Korean woman was jailed for taking nude photos of an unsuspecting stranger. But the court’s decision sparked a massive outcry. Source: South Korean Police.

Sick trend sweeping a nation

A YOUNG South Korean woman has been jailed for secretly photographing a nude male model without his permission.

The 25-year-old, identified only by her surname Ahn, was sentenced to 10 months in prison by Seoul Western District court, after she was found to have secretly taken and posted photos online of a male colleague while he posed nude for university arts students.

But the woman's arrest has sparked a backlash among many women over the perceived double standard when the victim happens to be male.

South Korea is the midst of a 'spycam' endemic, with authority figures and the country's government struggling to contain the number of cases of victims - mostly women - being discretely filmed or photographed at compromising angles in public spaces, better known in Australia as "upskirting".

The country has struggled over the years to deal with perpetrators who use tiny cameras or smartphones to film under women's clothing to see their genitalia or underwear.

The footage is heavily circulated on illicit porn sites, such as Soranet, which had more than a million users before police managed to shut it down in 2016.

An unknown number of similar sites are still running.

Last week, thousands of South Korean women gathered across the country's capital Seoul in a monthly demonstration to demand stronger government action to stop the spread of such footage.

Tens of thousands of demonstrators called for stronger investigations and punishments against male offenders who photograph or film women without their knowledge and post the material online.

The protests were significant. Figures released in June found that one in three allegations of revenge porn and upskirting are withdrawn by the complainant.

Some said it was because they were not granted anonymity, while others cited a lack of police support, the BBC reported.

Others feared coming forward would risk intensifying the sharing of the lewd material.

Since 2004, South Korea has required smartphones to make large shutter sounds when taking pictures and videos to prevent such crimes.

However, phone cameras can be silenced through apps and there's also an abundance of miniaturised cameras that can be hidden inside bags, shoes and toilets or small holes drilled into bathroom walls and doors.

Amid rising criticism, South Korean President Moon Jae-in last month ordered government officials to explore tougher punishments for hidden-camera crimes and also to ensure that employers are notified of the perpetrators' actions.

"We must make sure that the offenders suffer greater damage than the damage they inflict," Mr Moon told his Cabinet.

The government plans to spend 5 billion won ($6 million) to equip local governments with more camera detecting equipment and strengthen inspections of bathrooms in public spaces and private buildings.

There are also plans to widen inspections to elementary, middle and high schools. Under South Korean law, creating intimate sexual images without consent is punishable by a prison term of up to five years or a fine of up to 10 million won ($12,140).

Distributing such images for the purpose of profit is punishable by up to seven years in prison or a 30 million won ($36,000) fine.

Last year, South Korean Police set up a campaign to stop the sick trend. When hopeful viewers click on clips that claim to be showing hidden cameras, they are instead greeted with women who resemble horror characters from films like The Exorcist and The Ring.

In South Korea, taking lewd photos of unsuspecting strangers is a massive problem.
In South Korea, taking lewd photos of unsuspecting strangers is a massive problem.

With the rise of smartphones and small portable cameras, upskirting has become a huge global problem over the past decade.

All jurisdictions within Australia have passed laws making it illegal to take such photos without the subject's consent - but it still happens.

In March, a 27-year-old man was arrested and charged with inappropriate filming after the store manager at a Sydney Woolworths was notified by a customer that the man was acting strangely around the shopping centre and notably, the escalators.

When police made contact with the man they examined his mobile phone and allegedly discovered 14 videos of eight separate women. All had been filmed that night.

Last year, at another Sydney Woolworths, an employee was at a loss to explain why he upskirted customers and filmed his co-workers in the toilet, telling a court he could not stop.

Bibek Guragain was arrested in June after an 18-year-old woman noticed a phone near a toilet at Woolworths in Surry Hills.

The 23-year-old pleaded guilty to filming someone in a private act without consent and filming a person's private parts without consent, and says he still doesn't understand why he did it.

"I remember wishing that I could stop but I could not and I can't even explain it," Guragain said in a letter tendered in court.

"I wish I could turn back time and make everything all right but I am afraid I won't be able to do it and I have got to live with that guilt now."