K-pop suicide sparks a reckoning on revenge porn, sexual assault

Jihye Lee, Bloomberg News on

Published in Entertainment News

SEOUL, South Korea -- The suicide of a popular South Korean singer has prompted calls in the country to overhaul laws on sexual assault and to more harshly punish revenge porn.

Koo Hara, 28, was found dead at her home in Seoul on Sunday. Her last message on Instagram showed her staring into a camera lens from beneath blankets on her bed with a message of "good night." Police say a note was found at the scene in which she expressed hopelessness.

Many in South Korea were already aware of her past that included assault by a former boyfriend who she alleged was threatening to release a sex video of her. The two most popular hashtags on social media in South Korea this week called for punishment of the ex-boyfriend and for the definition of sexual assault to be revamped.

A petition filed with the president's office demanding changes to laws had 250.000 signatures. Lawmakers said it is time to push forward measures stalled in Parliament that make it easier to impose harsh penalties on those who engage in revenge porn or clandestinely take sexually charged videos.

Liberal lawmaker Lee Jung-mi of the minor Justice Party said in a social media post that Koo's death shows that change is needed because the nation "cannot neglect illegal filming and circulation of videos."

Lee in September 2018 introduced a bill to revise how South Korea's criminal law defines rape. She said recent verdicts on sexual crime show the current standards don't focus on consent but how much "resistance" there was from the victim.


President Moon Jae-in has called for a wide-ranging investigation of sex offenses linked to the entertainment industry and ordered the reopening of inquiries into past allegations. He issued a decree in June 2017 that set punishment of up to five years in prison, with the measure mostly pertaining to filming through hidden cameras.

Moon has not commented on Koo's death or on revamping sexual violence laws. On Nov. 19 he did comment on women's social status saying, "It's still quite a dark reality compared to the rest of the world. I can tell you that I will pay more attention on gender equality."

Some of those who are fighting for changes to the laws say they are frustrated with the pace of change.

"The current justice system sends a message to women that it will never be able to protect them," said Yun Dan-woo, a writer and women's rights activist.


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