Throwing Away the Burning Sun: How South Korea’s Privacy Laws Leave Women Unprotected

Throwing Away the Burning Sun: How South Korea’s Privacy Laws Leave Women Unprotected

By Gloria Park

On March 11, 2019, a famous South Korean singer was revealed to have circulated illegal and explicit “molka” footage in a chatroom including other male celebrities.[1] This was the singer’s second known time being accused of committing the offense.[2] Eventually, he was sentenced.[3] This allegation was one cog of the broader Burning Sun scandal, a controversy arising against the backdrop of the growing #MeToo movement in South Korea, starting with an investigation into a local club called ‘Burning Sun’ and resulting in the criminal convictions of multiple celebrities for crimes ranging from tax evasion to the secret filming of sex acts.[4]

“Molka” is a portmanteau of the Korean word “mollae”, which means secret, and the English word “camera.”[5] At face value, the term can be applied to a variety of situations—some harmless, such as playing a prank on someone and filming it without their knowing—but Korean society today attaches to it a common understanding: it is the use of spy-cameras, the act of secretly filming someone without their consent and then circulating the typically explicit content.[6] For women in particular, tiny, almost imperceptible cameras can be found in, seemingly, the most innocuous of places, such as in screws or in inconspicuous holes on toilet stall doors, in key holes, and even in shower heads.[7]

South Korea’s Korea Communications Standards Commission (“KCSC”) established a sixteen-member digital sex crime monitoring unit in the fall of 2019, following public outcry stemming from both the #MeToo movement and the Burning Sun scandal.[8] While Korea does appear to be attempting to make fundamental and structural changes to the existing legal framework, the abilities of unique commissions such as this one appears limited.[9] “Filming or distributing intimate videos without consent can each be punished with up to five years’ jail, but analysts say many often end up with only a suspended sentence or a fine.”[10]

This inherent failing in the criminal justice system is often attributed to the patriarchal underpinnings of South Korean society.[11] South Korea has one of the highest gender wage gaps among twenty-nine developed nations tracked by the OECD.[12] The OECD, in its 2018 glass-ceiling index, noted South Korea as one of the worst countries to be a working woman in.[13] Women earn less than 70% of what men earn in terms of wage.[14] Korea’s difficulty in implementing a sound legal structure that protects its women may not be in legislative failure, but in its failure to truly shed a persisting history of misogyny and patriarchy.

According to Twitter Korea, in 2018, “the top four social issues discussed [on the platform] . . . were ‘School MeToo,’ ‘feminism,’ ‘spy cams,’ and ‘hatred,’ often used in the context of misogyny.”[15] As women find their voices in South Korea, it becomes imperative that the country move past its current manner of tolerating these crimes simply because boys will be boys.[16]

[1] Y. Shin, Jung Joon Young Accused of Sharing Illegal Hidden Camera Footage in Chatroom Involving Male Singers, Soompi (Mar. 11, 2019),

[2] R. Choi, Jung Joon Young is Acquitted for Recent Case after Police Investigation, Soompi (Oct. 6, 2016),

[3] Sang-Hun Choe, Two K-Pop Stars Sentenced to Prison for Rape, New York Times (Nov. 29, 2019),

[4] Caitlin Kelley & Tamar Herman, Burning Sun Scandal: A Timeline of Allegations, Arrests and Involvement of Several K-Pop Stars [Updated], Billboard (Mar. 24, 2019),; see generally Laura Bicker, #MeToo Movements Takes Hold in South Korea, BBC (Mar. 26, 2018), (discussing the growth of the #M3Too movement in Korea, particularly with regard to its obstacles).

[5] See Victoria Kim, K-pop’s K-porn Problem: Growing Scandal Highlights South Korea’s Spy-cam Epidemic, Los Angeles Times (Apr. 3, 2019, 3:00 AM),

[6] Agnes France-Presse, South Korea Battles ‘Spycam Porn’ with 24/7 Monitoring by 16-Member Unit, South China Morning Post (Nov. 20, 2019, 2:28 PM),

[7] Jiwon Park & Isabella Steger, South Korean Women Aren’t Safe in Public Bathrooms—or Their Homes—Because of Spy-cam Porn, Quartz (Aug. 13, 2018),

[8] France-Presse, supra note 6.

[9] See id.

[10] Id.

[11] Id.

[12] Gender Wage Gap, OECD Data (2018),

[13] The Glass-Ceiling Index, Economist (Feb. 15, 2018),

[14] Bicker, supra note 4.

[15] Jenna Gibson & S. Nathan Park, South Korea’s Darkest Clubs are Being Dragged into the Light, Foreign Policy (May 3, 2019, 2:14 PM),

[16] France-Presse, supra note 6.