Published: Thu, November 01, 2018
People | By Leon Thompson

North Korea: Sexual violence against women 'common', report finds

North Korea: Sexual violence against women 'common', report finds

The report from the worldwide non-governmental organization Human Rights Watch based its data on two years of interviews with more than 50 North Koreans who left the country - more than half of them after 2011, The Guardian reported. She says 90% of the women she knew were victims of sexual assault, perpetrated by government officials, prison guards, and prosecutors.

"Higher-level male (army officers) often patted female soldiers on their hips and breasts or put their hands underneath their uniforms around their necks when they passed by them", said Lee So Yeon, a woman who served in the North's army before her 2008 escape.

Such is the assessment of one of 62 North Korean defectors who left the country after Kim Jong Un took power in 2011 and was interviewed over two years as part of a report on "endemic" sexual abuse in the country for Human Rights Watch, per the Wall Street Journal.

"Interviewees told us that when a guard or police officer "picks" a woman, she has no choice but to comply with any demands he makes, whether for sex, money, or other favors", the report said.

"Women in custody have little choice should they attempt to refuse or complain afterward, and risk sexual violence, longer periods in detention, beatings, forced labour, or increased scrutiny while conducting market activities".

Yoon Mi Hwa, who fled the hermit kingdom in 2014, claimed in the report that a prison guard sexually abused her. I stood still quietly, acting like I didn't notice, hoping it wouldn't be me, ' she said. "Every night a prison guard would open the cell".

Park Young-hee, a farmer, was sent back to North Korea after she was caught by Chinese police, and during her interrogation she said the policeman "made me sit very close to him and touched me over my clothes and underneath". "It happens so often nobody thinks it is a big deal".

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One anonymous former textile trader in her 40s recalled how the men "considered us [sex] toys". "We don't even realize when we are upset".

"As Minister Kang said the South Korean government has started discussions as to how to address the matter, we will wait for its decision", Kono told reporters at the Foreign Ministry following phone talks with Kang. 'So sometimes, out of nowhere, you cry at night and don't know why'.

A US cybersecurity firm revealed in January that it found computers installed with malware, suspected to have been implanted by North Korean hackers, to mine for cryptocurrency Monero and send it to Kim Il Sung University in Pyongyang, according to Chosun Ilbo.

The report also points out that even the language to describe sexual assault is limited in North Korea as is the understanding of what constitutes rape and sexual assault.

South Korea's foreign ministry said Seoul would work with the global community to make practical improvements for human rights in North Korea, and that by pursuing peace and warmer inter-Korean relationships, a positive improvement on human rights in North Korea can be achieved.

"Sexual violence in North Korea is an open, unaddressed, and widely tolerated secret", said Human Rights Watch's executive director Kenneth Roth.

It's not the first outside documentation of sexual violence in North Korea, but the report will likely anger North Korea, which often complains about what it claims is persistent USA hostility. Roth asserted North Korean leader Kim Jong Un could end the problem "tomorrow" and not affect his grasp on power, yet "would make an enormous difference for the lives of North Korean women".

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