The Current

The K-pop sex scandal reveals a 'disgusting' practice of sharing spy cam 'porn': journalist

Some of the biggest stars in K-pop have become embroiled in a sex scandal, including allegations of prostitution and filming sex acts without consent. One journalist says it's a practice that's gone on for years.

Cameras the size of lipstick hidden in public and private places, says NPR's Elise Hu

Seungri, center, member of a popular K-pop boy band Big Bang, closes his eyes upon his arrival at the Seoul Metropolitan Police Agency in Seoul, South Korea, on March 14. After their stunning retirement announcements, two K-pop stars are facing police questioning over a series of interlocking scandals that have roiled South Korea for weeks. (Ahn Young-joon/Associated Press)
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A sex scandal engulfing South Korea's K-pop industry is drawing attention and criticism to the country's problem with illegal spy cam "porn," says NPR's former Seoul correspondent.

This "disgusting" distribution of "natural porn" has been going on for years, Elise Hu told The Current's Anna Maria Tremonti.

Earlier this month, police questioned K-pop star Jung Joon-young about allegations he secretly filmed himself having sex with women and then shared the footage in private group chats.

"Tiny cameras that can be the size of lipstick containers or lighters are hidden in public places like subway stations, but also in highly private places like dressing rooms and bathrooms," Hu explained.

"The most common kind that's traded online, and shared online, and sometimes profited off of online, is footage of women having sex."

Often, that footage is taken and shared without the knowledge or consent of the women involved, said Hu.

Police have alleged K-pop singer Jung Joon-young, centre, secretly filmed himself having sex with about 10 women and shared the footage with friends through a mobile messenger app. (Ahn Young-joon/Associated Press)

But last summer, women decided to take a stand.

In July, more than 20,000 women organized in Seoul to protest what they see as law enforcement's lax approach to dealing with spy cam cases, the BBC reported.

Dark side of K-pop

The allegations against Jung are just one example of bad behaviour that's shining some light on the dark side of South Korea's entertainment industry.

On March 14, singer-songwriter Seungri, a member of the superstar group Big Bang, apologized outside a Seoul police station amidst allegations he tried to organize illegal sexual services for his investors.

Both Jung and Seungri have since retired from the entertainment industry.

It's common practice for South Korean celebrities wrapped up in controversy to publicly apologize for their actions, all the while maintaining their innocence.

When law enforcement act against sexual crimes, then that does help to allow for more women to feel like they can be heard.- Elise Hu, NPR correspondent

According to Hu, women in South Korea are hoping all this controversy serves as an impetus for change — and a shift in conversation to where women are believed.

"The larger, larger societal context of this here is that South Korea remains a place where men's place in society is assumed, and the woman's place in society has to be earned," she said.

"But one thing that we have seen with #MeToo is that when companies actually act against sexual harassment, when law enforcement act against sexual crimes, then that does help to allow for more women to feel like they can be heard and speak up."

Government image tied to industry

Achieving that societal shift requires changing the entertainment industry as a whole, as well as the broader systems that enforce harmful behaviour, said Jenna Gibson, a PhD candidate at the University of Chicago who focuses on Korean politics.

Among the players backing the K-pop industry is the South Korean government, said Hu. She said it does so indirectly by supporting KCON conventions, exposing fans around the world to K-pop music, and sponsoring events promoting the industry. 

As part of propaganda efforts, the South Korean government has also blasted K-pop at the North Korean border, in an attempt to spread capitalist ideals, Hu said.

Alexandra Reid performs to K-pop fans at KCON USA, billed as the world's largest Korean culture convention and music festival, in Los Angeles, Calif., in 2018. Hu says the South Korean government indirectly props up the K-pop industry by supporting KCON conventions and other events. (Mike Blake/REUTERS)

At the same time, K-pop has the power to influence South Korea's image abroad, said Gibson. It's become an important cultural export, and fans automatically associate the music with the country.

In the wake of the scandal, the South Korean president has called for an investigation into the allegations.

"I think the government does take this very seriously," said Gibson. "They're really investing in making sure that this isn't something that tarnishes that image."

Click 'listen' near the top of this page to hear the full conversation.


With files from CBC News. Produced by Samira Mohyeddin, Allie Jaynes, Imogen Birchard and Jessica Linzey.