North Korea- Free of Sexual Harassment? You Just Cannot Talk About It

[imText1]Women’s organizations, political groups and NGOs are raising their voices to stop sexual violation as the 98th International Women’s Day is coming up on March 8.

What do we know about the reality of sexual violation in North Korea? North Korean defectors agree that “sexual violation” is talked about, but “sexual harassment” or “disgraceful conduct” is not even defined.

Sexual harassment and disgraceful conduct to women are generally accepted. In North Korea, where feudalistic and paternalistic tradition is still in effect, sexual violation by men is quite serious.

North Korean defectors agree that North Korean women are exposed to sexual violation and it is not recognized as a problem in society.

After Decades Have Passed, “I Was Sexually Violated”

A North Korean defector poet, Ms. Choi Jin I (Ph.D Candidate, Women’s Studies, Ewha Women’s University) testifies about the reality of sexual violation in North Korea through the “Contemporary Women in North Korea” section in DailyNK. Ms. Choi says she could grasp the meaning of “sexual violation” after three years of living in South Korea. She, in turn, realized that what she went through in North Korea more than decades ago was sexual violation.

One day, Ms. Choi was called into the office of a Secretary of (North) Korea Workers’ Party for supporting the establishment of Juche Tower. At that time, she wanted to be a member of the Workers’ Party. She was excited at first, because she felt like she had more chance to be a member of the Party now. However, she was confused when she entered the office.

The room was so dark that she could barely tell that a person was in the room. When the secretary who guided her to the room left, the Secretary of the party approached her as if he was waiting to be alone with her.

He grabbed her chest at once. Ms. Choi shouted and ran out of the room. Vice President of the company saw her, and the Secretary of the Party lost his job. Later on, she found out that the Secretary that she was called to was notorious for sexually harassing women in the publishing company and giving them posts in the party in return.

However, it is very rare for the wrongdoers to be penalized. North Korean women are not aware of the definition of sexual violation. At the worst, if a woman accuses a wrongdoing of her boss, people would point fingers at her and call her “immoral”.

Ms. Choi says, “In North Korea, sexual harassment is not even defined. Women do not feel appalled about what happens, and accusing the wrongdoers only harms them. The wrongdoers move to another department at the most.”

Accusing Wrongdoers Only Harms the women, Sexual Favors are Common for Ascension in the Class

A North Korean defector Kang Mi Young, expelled to Jagang Province from Pyongyang, lived with her older sister after losing both of her parents when she was young. One day, she was shocked to see her sister being sexually violated by a Secretary of the Party in the research institute that she worked at.

Her sister could not refuse the sexual favors of the Secretary of the Party because she had to keep her job. Her sister and Ms. Kang ended up risking their lives to cross the Tumen River after her sister lost her job.

When North Koreans are asked to talk about sexual violation that they experienced, almost everyone has something to say. Sexual violation in North Korea is pandemic, but it is never talked about.

Ms. Choi Jin I also points out that it is the influence Kim Jong Il, who lives a life of debauchery. When the Great General enjoys “women,” wouldn’t it make sense to learn from him?

She added, “In 1990, more women use sexual favors to become a member of the Party or to go up the ladder in the class. Sexual favors are commonplace.”

A North Korean defector Lee Sung Nam (North Hamkyung Province) says, “Officials, lieutenants ask for sexual favors for joining the Party, promotion, and exemption of penalties, and they are considered to be up to the discretion of the boss.” When such behaviors are exposed, the officials come back to the post after revolutionization, after initially being fired for adultery.

The sentence for sexual violation is 5~7 years of imprisonment according to North Korean criminal law. However, the vague issue of women’s intentions makes it easier for the wrongdoers to get by.