No one wants their illegally-taken photos and videos posted on the internet for everyone to see—but this has been an ongoing problem for South Korean women for years, so much so that they even have a term for it: molka. Here's what you need to know about the ongoing "spy-cam porn" problem:
What exactly is 'molka?'
Molka means "secret camera" and it also refers to illegal footage or "spy-cam porn," which are obtained by installing tiny cameras inside everyday items and public spaces to secretly film women. These spy cams are installed in small holes in walls, public toilets, women's universities, and motels, and are mostly undetectable. They are hidden in "normal" items like plastic tumblers, shoes, and wallets, and cameras in the shape of phone chargers, baseball caps, and even water bottles actually exist and are being sold online. The captured footage, which is sometimes combined with other graphic images, are uploaded to illegal websites where men pay to watch them.
According to The Guardian, 2,400 cases of illegal filming were reported in South Korea in 2012, and it grew to 6,400 in 2017. In an interview, BBC Korea's Minji Lee said: "A lot of sociologists point out that some men watch these films because they want to be in control of women. They feel that seeing women in the toilets, in a vulnerable state, makes them feel empowered."
A 2018 video from BBC News featured Park Soo Yeun of an organization called Digital Sexcrime Out. She was campaigning against molka and connecting with victims + helping them file complaints. Soo Yeun shared: "According to statistics, over 10 cases are reported per day. I honestly think that the statistics don't show the extent of the problem because if you go on these porn sites, there are 20 to 30 new uploads each day." The problem was so serious, some women created their own "emergency kits" to protect themselves from molka in public bathrooms! The kits contain "a tube of silicone sealant to fill up holes, an ice pick to break tiny camera lenses, and stickers to patch up holes."
What are some examples of "high profile" molka cases?
In 2019, a young woman reportedly died through suicide after discovering that she was secretly filmed in a hospital changing room. In a report by The Guardian, her family said that prior to this she had suffered "nightmares and trauma" after finding out that she had been a victim of molka.
In January 2021, a case involving MOMOLAND member Nancy McDonie also surfaced, when the 20-year-old became a victim of illegally taken and manipulated photos. Reports said that "photos alleged to be Nancy changing outfits have been posted online." Her agency released an official statement, saying that Nancy was experiencing "severe emotional turmoil" because of the incident.
Late K-pop star Goo Hara was secretly filmed by a boyfriend and the case was taken to court in 2018. BBC reported that "because she remained in the relationship, they found him not guilty of illicit filming."
The infamous "Burning Sun" case involved a report of K-pop star Jung Joon Yeong sharing illegal hidden camera footage in a group chat with friends from the industry. He later admitted to the crime in an apology letter, and part of it reads: "I filmed women without their consent and shared it in a social media chatroom, and while I did so I didn't feel a great sense of guilt. As a public figure, it was an unethical act worthy of criticism, and such a thoughtless action." Joon Yeong was later sentenced to six years in prison for gang-rape and was also charged with filming the assault and distributing the footage.
What happens to arrested molka perpetrators?
An article by Human Rights Watch says that in 2018, 6,800 molka cases were reported to the police but "only a third were referred for trial, and fewer than one in ten trials led to prison sentences." The Guardian reported that molka offenders face a fine of up to 10 Million Won (P438,265) and imprisonment could last up to five years. However, most offenders get off scot-free by simply paying "modest fines."
Reporting a molka incident in the first place is a challenge because victims are required to have evidence. Minji Lee shares: "In most cases, it's very hard for women to actually have evidence and it's traumatic for them to go to those illegal sites and see random men commenting on their body and report [it] to the police." Buzzfeed News also reports that "police only ask those behind the cameras to submit devices voluntarily" and that perpetrators are not charged under pornography laws: the "vague" law requires the content to show body parts that "induce sexual desire or humiliation."
What is being done about molka?
There have been many protests against spy-cam porn, including one in 2018 where more than 20,000 women joined a historical rally in Seoul with slogans such as "My Life Is Not Your Porn." Some women even reportedly shaved their heads as part of the movement, and attendees covered their faces for fear of being identified and shamed online. They asked the government to take action in protecting them and demanded harsher punishments for those who make, share, and watch molka, and signed several petitions. The government launched several highly-publicized campaigns after these protests, but women say that it's not enough.
Molka is part of a bigger problem, of course. In 2017, NPR reported that "when it comes to gender equality, South Korea ranks poorly—near the bottom of all countries." A 2015 sex education guideline for South Korean high school students suggested that victims are to blame for date rape. And although molka is a South Korean term, this doesn't mean that it's not happening in other countries—it's important for women all over the world to address this issue.