SEOUL: Tens of thousands of South Korean women staged a mass rally in Seoul on Saturday to protest against spycam porn, urging tougher punishments for peeping Toms as anger over the growing scourge boils over.

Since May, the monthly demonstration in Seoul has shattered records to become the biggest-ever women’s protest in South Korea where the global #MeToo movement has unleashed an unprecedented wave of female-led activism.

The primary cause of the protests are so-called spycam videos in a tech-savvy country where news of men caught secretly filming women in schools, offices, trains, or even toilets have made headlines on a daily basis.

Organisers said Saturday’s event drew 70,000 participants, ten thousand more than the previous month’s rally, despite an unprecedented summer heatwave that has pushed the mercury above 37 degrees.Asia’s fourth-largest economy takes pride in its tech prowess, from ultra-fast internet to cutting-edge smartphones. But these advances have also given rise to an army of tech-savvy perverts, with videos widely shared in internet chatrooms and on file-sharing sites, or used as adverts for websites promoting prostitution or gambling.

The number of such spycam crimes reported to police has surged from around 1,100 in 2010 to more than 6,500 last year, with the offenders ranging from school teachers and college professors to church pastors and even a court judge.

Most participants at Saturday’s rally hid their faces with hats, sunglasses or surgical facial masks. Some South Koreans who have previously joined protests in support of women’s rights have faced online bullying and harassment. The South remains deeply conservative and patriarchal despite economic and technological advances.

The crimes have become so prevalent that the South’s female police officers inspect women’s toilets in public venues including subway stations on a regular basis with special detectors for spycam videos that may be hidden inside stalls.

The protesters are demanding that the government toughen punishments for offenders — most of whom are fined or receive suspended jail terms — and shutter websites hosting the footage.

Although all manufacturers of smartphones sold in the South are required to ensure their devices make a loud shutter noise when taking photos — a move designed to curb covert filming — many offenders use special apps that mute the sound, or turn to high-tech spy cameras hidden inside eye glasses, lighters, watches, car keys and even neckties.

Published in Dawn, August 5th, 2018

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