Rape culture in Kangwon Province

Wednesday 29th April, 2015

Defectors reveal testimonies about rape culture and women’s rights abuse in Kangwon Province.

A woman runs from a soldier in the scene from the movie "Engagement".

A woman runs from a soldier in a scene from the movie “Engagement”.

According to sources in Wonsan, Kangwon Province, acts of sexual assault committed by soldiers of the Korean People’s Army are becoming a serious social issue. Inside sources revealed that the acts are happening “mainly around Kangwon Province, among soldiers of the frontier troops. Kangwon Province is a key location where much of North Korea’s military is concentrated.”

The source explains, “Wherever you go in Kangwon Province, there are more soldiers than civilians. Because almost everyone you bump into is a soldier, you notice that as a major group they commit a lot of crimes. Mostly, the crimes are rape and sexual assault. In Kangwon Province, the soldiers move in large groups, and attacks have become so frequent that it isn’t even surprising to us anymore.

Even the police try to avoid them. This is because they try to contain the soldiers, but usually end up being humiliated. The soldiers in Kangwon Province are uncontrollable and virtually lawless. So the civilians of Kangwon Province have resorted to calling their hometown ‘Robbery Province’ or ‘Rape Province’.”

Song Geum-bok, who escaped North Korea in March 2014, testifies: “There are army units everywhere in Kangwon Province. Eight of the ten people that pass you in the streets of Kangwon Province are soldiers. Put simply, there are more soldiers in this province than rocks. So naturally, when bad news circulates among the neighbourhood people, we presume that a soldier is involved in some way.

“The greatest victims of the soldiers are women. These youthful soldiers, who are in their prime both physically and sexually, are forced to serve in the army, and as time passes they become like uncontrollable wolves. When women become the target of a soldier, there is no stopping them. Soldiers usually loiter around dark places at night and jump on women passing by. Some women don’t even fight it – they just obediently adhere to the soldiers’ desires.

“Why? It’s because there is no use in fighting back. The women believe that by being compliant, they will at least be able to avoid suffering too many injuries. To those soldiers, the age or appearance of the victim is not important. They would not even hesitate if it were an elderly grandmother. You could put a skirt around a log and they would feel sexual desire.

“There have been cases where some soldiers even commit acts of sexual assault with complete disregard to time or place. Women have been attacked in their private homes, usually located on hills or in small villages. There is an imminent fear in the women that if they try to defend themselves or run away, they could end up getting killed. There is a belief that they should offer their bodies if they wish to stay alive. Sexual psychopaths even feel aroused when they inflict pain on the bodies of their victims.”

Another escapee, thirty-eight year old Hyun Eunmi testified: “Women find it difficult to walk in mountainous or narrow lanes where there are few people. You never know when you could meet a rapist, and most of the time, the rapists are soldiers. And most people walk by without offering any help, or simply stand and watch.

“Yes, law does exist in North Korea. However, they aren’t laws that protect the safety of the people – they’re laws that help strengthen Kim Jong Un’s authority and are solely in the interests of the regime. So these crimes become nothing but common incidents that nobody cares about. Some of these soldiers even believe that women are there to be raped.

“Once, a colleague of mine was sexually assaulted by two soldiers. They appeared out of nowhere, and my colleague collapsed and started begging for mercy. She beseeched them, ‘A soldier whose duty is to protect the people should not be hurting them in this way’. But the soldier gave an outrageous reply: ‘You should serve me with your body as a sign of thanks for defending the land that you walk upon.’

“Soldiers in North Korea are not at all what they seem. They are in the centre of crime in North Korea. Some men borrow army uniforms to pretend to be soldiers and commit the same crimes.

“Sexual assault is common, more common than other kinds of assault, and we women in Kangwon Province are deeply affected by it.”


Reporting by Lee, Cheol-Mu.

Read in Korean.

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