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New Report Shows Shocking Numbers of Sexual Assaults in North Korea

November 2, 2018


"In railway carriages, women often face harassment by male government officials and railroad officers."

"In railway carriages, women often face harassment by male government officials and railroad officers."

According to RAINN, the Rape, Abuse & Incest National Network, only 310 out of 1,000 sexual assaults and rapes that occur each year are reported to the police. In North Korea, this number is considerably lower. In fact, rape and sexual assault have basically become the norm.

Various accounts of sexual abuse committed by North Korean officials have been laid out in a new extensive 98-page report by the Human Rights Watch. The report took over two years to compile and contains testimonies from 72 women, four girls, and 30 males. It has brought to light how common unwanted sexual assault and violence is in North Korea.

The offenders are often those who hold positions of power or influence ranging from police officers to supermarket supervisors. However, scarcely any of them have faced consequences for their actions. Kenneth Roth, the Human Right’s Watch executive director, states, “North Korean women would probably say ‘Me Too’ if they thought there was any way to obtain justice, but their voices are silenced in Kim Jong Un’s dictatorship.” Moreover, in 2008 only nine individuals in all of North Korea were convicted of rape, seven in 2011, and five in 2015.

Various individuals have tried to work their way into the police or other military forces in order to attempt a change, but much of it is short lived due to the very toxic environment. Sexual favors are required to advance through the ranks. Hoe Jong-hae, a former police officer in North Korea, told CNN that 90% of the women she knew had been sexually assaulted and that “the officials in charge will demand sexual favors. To join the (worker’s) party, one must comply.”

Jong-hae is a victim of sexual abuse herself and states that one of her friends contemplated committing suicide after being assaulted at the age of 17. “She said she cried and wanted to die. Her parents told her to come home before dark to avoid rape but things like this happen in broad daylight. She tried to kill herself. It was worse in Pyongyang where everyone was forced to go to work every day.” It was Jong-Hae’s experience of sexual assault that motivated her to defect from the police force and she hopes that by sharing her story she’s inspired others to change theirs as well.

When men who sexually are held to account their victims suffer as well. Lee So-yeon Director of New Korea Women’s Union has witnessed this herself. While serving for the military a commander of her company sexual assaulted a number of female soldiers. When he discharged his victims were discharged as well. “The perpetrators are usually not punished if the victims number one or two. There is also less chance of being punished the higher the ranking… In this case, he assaulted about 30 women.” So-yeon states, “The victims were dishonorably discharged because it was considered that they simply had sexual relations with the commander while on duty. They had actively taken part.”

The victims it seems always pay the larger price. “Once the word gets out that a woman had been victimized, the society doesn’t look kindly at her. Instead, she is blamed for her reckless and seductive behavior.” So-yeon explains.

“Detainees are commonly forced to assume this position in pre-trial detention and temporary holding facilities.”

“There is no sense of right and wrong. The party officials must see these as a problem in order for the situation to change but they do not. They are perpetrators themselves.” So-yeon proclaims. Sexual and gender-based violence, as well as forced abortions and rape against imprisoned and detained women are common. No one is left unaffected, but hopefully in the coming years we may finally see a reform and North Korea’s norm shift into a safer environment for women, children, and males victims affected.

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