1,600 Guests Secretly Filmed in South Korean Motel

Demonstrators protest against sexual assault in Washington, DC on February 6, 2016. (Wikimedia Commons)

Demonstrators protest against sexual assault in Washington, DC on February 6, 2016. (Wikimedia Commons)

On March 21, South Korean police arrested two men for installing illegal hidden cameras in motel rooms and livestreaming sexual videos of over 1,600 guests. Police are investigating two additional suspects.

Four men allegedly hid cameras in 42 rooms in 30 motels across ten cities, placing them in hair dryer holders, wall sockets, and satellite boxes. The footage was streamed 24 hours a day on a subscription-based website, where over 4,000 members paid monthly fees for access. Nearly 100 members paid an additional fee of $44 (50,000 won) for extra features, such as the ability to replay videos. The website ran for about three months, making a total of $6,200 (7 millon won).

This incident is just the latest development in a larger societal reckoning in South Korea over spy cameras and illegal filming, known as molka. Over the past month, the country has reeled from a massive scandal involving prominent celebrities distributing nonconsensually filmed videos of sex with drugged and unconscious women.

For many South Korean women, molka is seen as a “social death penalty,” but it is difficult to avoid. Spy cameras are frequently found in public bathrooms and changing rooms, to the point where Seoul created a group of women inspectors to conduct regular investigations in the city’s 20,000 public bathrooms for hidden cameras. Revenge porn and nonconsensual filming during sex are also common.

Annually, the police receive thousands of reports of illegal filming, and this number is on the rise—in 2012, the police received 2,400 reports, up from 6,400 in 2017. The number of unreported incidents is likely much higher. Despite the ubiquity of molka, official data from 2012 to 2017 shows that only 2.6 percent of men accused of the crime were arrested.

In response, tens of thousands of South Korean women mobilized last year, protesting under the slogan “My Life Is Not Your Porn.” Spy camera laws have since been amended to include longer sentences and harsher fines. Additionally, last April, the South Korean government set up a task force to help women take down recordings and pictures from the Internet; within months the task force received over 15,000 requests to remove videos.

In an anonymous email, a protest organizer explained their purpose: “Korean women are often told that they are simply too sensitive when they question the status quo, and that they are making themselves uncomfortable to be around.” They continue: “We are reclaiming our right to challenge existing conditions that aggravate sexual discrimination. We are raising uncomfortable issues.”