On November 1, Human Rights Watch (HRW),an international organization tracking human rights violations in over 90 countries, hosted a press conference at the Korea Press Center in Seoul to discuss its highly critical report on sexual violence against women in North Korea. The report, the most extensive assessment of sexual violence in North Korea published to date, was presented by Kenneth Roth, HRW’s executive director, and North Korean defector Lee So Yeon, director of the New Korea Women’s Union.
The 86-page report entitled, “You Cry at Night, But Don’t Know Why: Sexual violence against Women in North Korea”, paints a dismal picture of life inside the hermit kingdom for women of all demographics. The report documents the personal accounts of 54 North Koreans and 8 former North Korean officials who fled the country some time after the current ruler Kim Jong Un came to power in 2011.
According to the report, the diversity in age, geographic location, social class and personal backgrounds of the survivors suggests that sexual violence has become a growing epidemic across the entire country. Defectors that were interviewed asserted that unwanted sexual contact and violence is so common that it has become accepted as part of ordinary life.
Those who are subject to sexual violence often feel helpless, as police do not consider it to be a serious crime. Many find it almost inconceivable to even consider reporting sexual abuse to the police due to possible repercussions including further sexual violence, detention, beatings, and forced labor. Yoon Soon Ae, a North Korean defector, likened reporting sexual assault to “spitting in your own face,” because victims are widely blamed for what happens to them. ......