Female North Korean defectors have revealed the scale of abuse they have suffered inside the hermit kingdom in a shocking new report about the sexual violence perpetrated against women of every class, age and status. Accounts of prisoners having their vaginas forcibly searched for money by guards, rape victims being banished from cities and politicians exchanging houses for sexual favors detail a country in which women are routinely subjected to the most harrowing forms of abuse at all levels of society.
Following two years of research and interviews with more than 40 female exiles living in London and Seoul, conducted by the Korea Future Initiative, the report aims to shed light on the systemic rape culture of North Korea.
Interviewees hailing from geographically and socially diverse locations had all either personally experienced sexual violence; had known of a family member, friend, or colleague who had experienced sexual violence; or knew exiled countrywomen who were survivors.
One woman, who the report identifies as Ms Kim, was imprisoned in the Sinuiju labor camp. “The guards called girls into a room and ordered them to take off their clothes. There were girls who were fifteen or sixteen years old and they started to cry,” she said. The guards would put on rubber gloves and push their hands inside the girls’ vaginas to check if they had money. “The girls were still virgins and had not even started their menstrual cycles,” she said. “They would bleed and cry. The guards kept doing this even though they did not find any money.”
Ms Gil was similarly abused when she approached her town’s mayor to ask for somewhere to stay. “I was raped in his office and received a house in return. I could not tell anyone about what happened. What I want to say is this: In North Korea, a woman’s dream cannot be achieved without being raped or without selling her body.”
Even more financially secure women regularly found themselves at the sexual whim of their male bosses. Ms Wi explained how officials from the Ministry of Public Health abused her friend at a hospital in Pyongyang. “If they saw a young nurse or employee they admired, they would whisper in the ear of the chief hospital official who accompanied their inspection,” she said. “The woman would then be taken, sometimes forcibly, to a secluded room and abused by the officials. My friend told me that she was sedated on one occasion, but after that she stopped resisting. She could not tell me what the officials did to her.”