Shocking Levels of Sex Abuse in North Korea: Women Treated 'Like Sex Toys, at the Mercy of Men'

Yonhap via ReutersNorth Korea's cheering squad arrives at Gapyeong, South Korea on Feb. 7

A detailed report by a human rights agency has revealed that shocking levels of sexual abuse against women in North Korea are so common that they are considered the norm.

Oh Jung-hee, one of several women to escape the North Korean regime who spoke with Human Rights Watch, said that she was coerced into sexual acts or intercourse by guards at the marketplace she worked at on many occasions.

"I was a victim many times ... On the days they felt like it, market guards or police officials could ask me to follow them to an empty room outside the market, or some other place they'd pick," she said.

"What can we do? They consider us [sex] toys ... We [women] are at the mercy of men. Now, women cannot survive without having men with power near them."

Park Young Hee, a former farmer in her 40s, said that she was captured by secret police and put in the pre-trial detention facility near Musan city in North Hamgyong after attempting to flee to China in 2011.

During detention she was repeatedly sexually abused, she says.

"My life was in his hands, so I did everything he wanted and told him everything he asked. How could I do anything else? ... Everything we do in North Korea can be considered illegal, so everything can depend on the perception or attitude of who is looking into your life," the victim explained.

As many as 54 North Koreans who fled the country after 2011 spoke with HRW in the report, explaining how government officials regularly picked women and forced them into sex. Any kind of refusal would risk further sexual violence, beatings, forced labor, and other mistreatment.

"The North Koreans we spoke with told us that unwanted sexual contact and violence is so common that it has come to be accepted as part of ordinary life: sexual abuse by officials, and the impunity they enjoy, is linked to larger patterns of sexual abuse and impunity in the country," HRW reported.

"The precise number of women and girls who experience sexual violence in North Korea, however, is unknown. Survivors rarely report cases, and the North Korean government rarely publishes data on any aspect of life in the country."

The human rights group urged the North Korean government to issue clear orders for all public serving members to investigate and prosecute rape and other acts of sexual violence.

It also called on the international community to put pressure on the North Korean government to implement such initiatives.

Beside women's rights, North Korea also remains one of the worst places in the world for religious minorities, including Christians. Not only is practice of the faith banned in the country, but finding a believer with a Bible can lead to prison, and even execution.

Persecution watchdog group Open Doors USA suggested in October that there is a strong reason for why Kim Jong Un's regime is "afraid" of Christianity.

"It's likely because people who are following Jesus and who are committed to one another mean there are people he can't control, and who follow a greater King. It means there are people who practice radical love for each other and for Jesus — who won't so easily follow him and the lies of his regime," the group said.

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