Report sheds light on severity of sexual assault in North Korean military

Jang Seul Gi  |  2018-04-13 15:16
Several prominent South Korean figures including South Chungcheong Province Governor Ahn Hee Jung, poet Go Eun, and director Kim Ki Duk have been publicly disgraced after accusations of sexual assault were brought to light. These accounts of abuse of power and sexual violence are also bringing more attention to such injustices occurring across the border in North Korea.

A report from the Database Center for North Korean Human Rights (NKDB) surveyed 70 male defectors with experience in the North Korean military from October 2017 to January 2018. Its findings were compiled from in-depth interviews and published to shed light on human rights abuses occurring in the North Korean military.

The following are excerpts from the report.

#1

"If a higher-ranked military officers gives an order, you have no choice but to follow it. If a superior officer orders a female conscript to organize some documents, he might actually be ordering her to go somewhere to be raped or sexually assaulted, and she cannot do anything about it."

-Interviewee M-70; Ryanggang Province, entered North Korean military in 1994; discharged in 2004; interviewed by NKDB in January 2018. (From NKDBs report Prisoners in military uniform)

#2

"One high-ranking military male cadre was known to beat anyone who did not listen carefully, and he even caused a young woman to commit suicide. The woman was a nurse. She was raped by the man and became pregnant, but in the end she died after swallowing a large amount of pills. But it was just written off as an illness, even after the autopsy determined that she was pregnant."

-Interviewee M-37; North Pyongan Province, entered North Korean military in 1989; discharged in 2001; interviewed by NKDB in November 2017. (From NKDBs report Prisoners in military uniform)

According to a report released by the Database Center for North Korean Human Rights (NKDB), which surveyed 70 North Korean defectors who served in the North Korean military, 34.3% of respondents said that they had been the victims of sex crimes while serving. 

Women make up about one-third of the estimated 1.3 million individuals currently serving in the North Korean military, typically in roles such as nurses, dispatchers, and mobile artillery (truck-mounted machine gun) operators, serving alongside men. Sexual violence against women in the military is rife, as the majority of individuals lack any awareness of sexual violence, harassment, and womens inalienable rights.

Conscripts in the North Korean military are not permitted to date or get married during their lengthy service, and are dishonorably discharged if discovered to be in any kind of romantic relationship. But despite this prohibition against relations with the opposite sex, victims of rape and assault are institutionally discouraged from speaking out about the crimes committed against them.

Since it is easy for those in power to punish victims and hide the truth if they do speak out, most victims choose not to say anything. 

#3

"A lot of girls commit suicide after finding out they are pregnant. Rumors spread that the (male) leader of my women's unit got one girl pregnant. I saw how her belly began to grow, which forced her into a difficult situation, knowing she would get in trouble with such proof of a 'romantic relationship.' So she ended up killing herself."

-Interviewee M-49; Ryanggang Province, Entered North Korean military in 2006; discharged in 2013; interviewed by NKDB in December 2017. (From NKDBs report Prisoners in military uniform)

There have been instances where a high-ranking individual will receive a transfer, demotion, or similar slap on the wrist if the number of known victims becomes overwhelming. But this is only for the purpose of preventing any loss of unit cohesion, and carries no inherent goal of punishing the man for the actual crimes.

#4

"Most people do not say anything about being raped since they are well aware that nothing would happen even if they did. When I was attending military academy, a high-ranking political colonel raped all of the attractive women there, and a simple demotion was the only punishment he received."

-Interviewee M-18; North Hwanghae Province, Entered North Korean military in 2001; discharged in 2010; interviewed by NKDB in October 2017. (From NKDBs report Prisoners in military uniform)

The problem of sexual assault in the military extends to male-on-male assault as well. According to the NKDB report, sexual violence against men in the military is also a daily occurrence, with victims skewing towards the younger conscripts. 

#5

"This kind of thing occurs in every unit of the country's military... I also was the victim of (same-sex sexual assault) in the military, but I could not speak out because it would ruin my chances of entering the party. The unit commander said I was 'beautiful' and kept groping me."

-Interviewee M-63; South Hamgyong Province, Entered North Korean military in 1991; discharged in 2000; interviewed by NKDB in December 2017. (-From NKDBs report Prisoners in military uniform)

"Sexual violence in the North Korean military is largely related to an individual's rank. Women do not say anything about being abused due to the ramifications, and instances of men being sexually assaulted are on the rise," NDKB researcher An Hyun Min told Daily NK.

"Victims are unable to address the issue of sexual violence in the North Korean military, but South Korea and the international community can at least investigate and spread awareness about the problem."

*Translated by Colin Zwirko

 
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