In South Korea, molka (몰카 Korean pronunciation: [moɭkʰa], an abbreviation for 몰래 카메라 [moɭɭɛ kʰameɾa]) are miniature cameras secretly and illegally installed in order to capture voyeuristic images and videos. However, the crime of molka refers to images taken with any kind of camera or smartphone. The voyeuristic images and videos are sold online across various platforms, including popular social media sites like Twitter and Tumblr, without knowledge or consent of those on camera. "Molka" can refer to both the actual cameras as well as the footage later posted online. South Korea's highly digitized society makes it easy to circulate molka footage and difficult to remove it once circulated.
The rate of arrests of hidden camera crimes has increased since 2011, and such crimes have become a prominent point of feminist protest and #MeToo in South Korea. Women make up the overwhelming majority of victims of hidden camera crimes, while men make up the vast majority of perpetrators. Some critics allege that molka crimes and the lack of action taken towards them are a product of distorted gendered violence against women in South Korea and the flaws in the law enforcement system.
Prevalence and growth of spy cameras
The problem of filming someone without authorization, such as men using cell phones to film women on stairs and in subways, has been a common form of molka and has even led to requiring all South Korean cell phone manufacturers to have phones emit loud shutter noises upon taking a picture. Fixed spycams have been found in public areas in Korea as early as 1997, where secret cameras were found to be installed in the ceiling of a Sinchon department store's women's restroom. While the department store stated that the cameras were installed for ‘security purposes’ to catch pickpockets and people who vandalise toilets, the incident received much public criticism.
With the increase in smartphone ownership and rapid development of technology, molka crimes have also been increasingly found in spaces such as public bathrooms, changing rooms, schools, and offices. Molka crimes have been called a product of fast, easy access to Internet technology and "backwards" misogyny, or an example of "digital male sexual violence." According to police data, around 1,100 to 1,400 molka crimes occurred in 2010 and 2011 respectively, but in 2018, there were nearly 6,800 cases. Revenge porn, or private photos and footage taken and circulated by former lovers or partners without consent of the filmed subject, is a related form of harassment thought to be roughly as widespread of a problem in South Korea.
In 2018, the police stated that 90% of molka crime was committed using a smartphone.
Public restroom molka crimes
Public restrooms are one of the most commonly mentioned locations for spycam installation. Many women have said that they do not feel safe using public restrooms because they feel there is such a high possibility of there being a hidden camera, covering up holes and cracks in walls, toilet paper holders, and hairdryers where cameras might be hidden.
In September 2018, the Seoul city government announced it would increase public restroom inspection by assigning 8,000 employees to inspect the city's 20,000+ bathrooms on a daily basis, a step up from the previous 50 employees and monthly inspections. Government inspectors have not actually discovered any recording devices in public restrooms despite checking nearly 200,000 restrooms across the country. According to police, many spy cameras are only installed for short periods of time—as brief as 15 minutes—and therefore can be difficult to detect even with the implementation of daily searches.
Motel molka crimes
Molka have also been found to be secretly installed in motel rooms, and the content of the recorded films is explicitly sexual rather than capturing women's bodies alone. Since couples are involved, motel molka crimes may also position many men as victims, in contrast to most other molka positioning. The perpetrator may check into a motel and install cameras in places such as hairdryer holders and satellite boxes.
A particularly widespread incident was discovered in March 2019. Over a three-month period, more than 800 couples had been live-streamed having sex in 30 love motels across 10 cities in South Korea. The videos, which were posted online and accessible for a monthly subscription fee, were hosted on an overseas server so that the cameras' IP addresses would be harder to detect. The two men in charge of the scheme were arrested, and two other men were suspected to be accomplices.
Hospital molka crimes
In 2019, a clinician at a hospital in South Korea was caught filming women's intimate parts at a supermarket. The same clinician had also drilled a hole in a bookshelf positioned opposite a women's locker room and inserted a spy camera. Women were filmed taking off their clothes, some fully naked and some in their underwear.
Notable molka cases
These incidents regarding Korean celebrities involving molka are:
- Goo Hara (2018) incident that revealed Choi Jong Bum (ex-boyfriend) threatened to leak sex tapes on social media because Goo Hara attacked him after hearing that Choi was upset that she was hanging out with an older acquaintance. He later blackmailed Goo stating the sex tapes he filmed would end her career as a celebrity. The scandal prompted further investigations regarding revenge porn and more protection towards the victims. Choi was acquitted on one charge of illicit filming as the case headed to the supreme court. As prosecution of charges against Choi continued, Goo attempted suicide on May 26. Choi Jong Bum was sentenced on the remaining charges on October 15. Goo Hara is presumed to have committed suicide on November 24.
- JJY Chatrooms (2019) revealed a high-profile case of molka circulation, where celebrities such as Jung Joon-young and Choi Jong-hoon and other members of famous K-pop groups were found to have filmed or shared explicit sexual videos in a private chat room, many of which were filmed in motel rooms and involved with prostitution rings around 2015–2016. The involvement of so many celebrities and high-ranking figures gave an example as to how widely the practice of illicit filming has spread in South Korea and how the issue is connected to other gendered violence and the common complacency of law enforcement towards or active concealment of crimes and violence towards women. The scandal has also fueled more discussion about these issues of illegal filming, prostitution, and sexual violence against women, among others.
Social reaction to molka crimes
There have been various reactions to the increased prevalence of molka crimes, including increased discussion and more physical demonstrations regarding the issue.
President Moon Jae-in acknowledged in May 2018 that the spycam epidemic had become 'part of daily life' in South Korea and that there should be greater punishment for offenders.
However, many[who?] treat molka incidents and other forms of gendered violence as outliers and the result of extreme individuals rather than a part of systemic misogyny and the use of power to silence sexual violence against women.
Monthly protests against spy cameras from May to August 2018 in Seoul were in part catalyzed by one molka incident where the perpetrator was a woman who secretly filmed a nude male model. The investigation and punishment were conducted rapidly and harshly in comparison to most molka crime cases where nearly 98% of perpetrators are male, and the police's response to the rare case of a female perpetrator and male victim angered many women, despite claims by the police that there was no bias present. Protest campaigns included removal of spycams, harsher punishments for perpetrators, and greater regulations around the sale of spycam equipment. "My life is not your porn" became a slogan popularized in the protest as a response to the prevalence of spy cameras installed in everyday places. The August protest condemning spy cameras particularly shattered records of protest numbers, reportedly drawing up to between 55,000 and 70,000 female participants according to organizers and becoming the largest women-only demonstration in Korea's history.
A computer specialist who works to delete molka footage said that the protests drew enough attention to the issue of molka crimes that her company saw a surge in demand for its services.
Article 14 of the "Act on Special Cases Concerning the Punishment, etc. of Sexual Crimes" lists taking or distributing unauthorized pictures or videos as a crime. While hidden camera filming is technically a crime, the law remains vague enough that most molka filming incidents are not clearly illegal. For instance, most molka films are not readily classified as "illegal violence" if cameras are not specifically zoomed in to particular body parts or directly placed in garments. Even if a victim states that they felt "sexual humiliation," a voyeuristic view of a woman using a public restroom may not be considered as illegal sexual violence. Police have also let offenders go in molka crimes where there was a lack of physical violence.
There are also few legal avenues to prevent the circulation of molka footage even if the perpetrators have been found guilty. The rapid development of digital technology and the digital permanence of circulation of illegal molka content makes it difficult for a victim to recover damages even with proof of wrongdoing.
Molka crimes can result in jail time or fines. The filming of intimate videos without consent, or distributing without consent, can result in up to five years in prison or a fine up to 30 million won. As of 2017, nearly 80 percent of fines actually implemented are less than 3 million won, and nearly 80 percent of fines are imposed on the person who distributed the footage rather than those who install and initially film from spy cameras. The amount of the fines implemented is also inadequate when considering the funds required to remove molka videos from online circulation even for one month.
Many women's groups refer to the lack of harsh punishment as a "slap on the wrist" for men and say that it demonstrates the lack of urgency authorities currently have for molka crimes. A study by the Korean Women Lawyers Association found that in 2016, the rate of prosecution amongst those accused of committing molka crimes was 31.5%. Of those tried for molka crime offenses from 2012 to 2017, 8.7 percent received a jail sentence. In 2017, more than 5,437 people were arrested for spycam-related crimes in South Korea and 119 were jailed. Statistics on cyber sex and digital sex crimes are not extensive enough to provide significant insight on the actual problems of victims and related trends of digital sex crime in Korean society, and the voices of victims and survivors do not have much weight in current official policy discussion. As a result, there is not substantial information that can be used as a basis to create effective policy and measures against these crimes as well as policies to protect victims of digital sexual violence.
In 2017, an omnibus policy on digital sex crimes titled "Comprehensive Policies on the Prevention of Sex Crimes and Victimization" was passed. The act emphasizes strict investigation and punishment of sex crimes as well as establishment of support for victims and greater public education regarding sex crimes. The continued growth of molka crimes and lack of effective conviction following the creation of the policy shows a gap between the written law and its practical implementation.
In a situational analysis based on data and periodic reports from the Korean National Police Agency, the Korean Women Lawyers Association, the Ministry of Gender Equality and Family, and many others, published in October 2019, it was found that despite protests against spy cameras in South Korea, and petitions signed calling to ban the use of spy cameras in 2018, the issue of spy cameras remains pressing matter in South Korea.
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