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Human Rights Watch: North Korean women face sex abuse in marketplaces

By
Elizabeth Shim
A North Korean woman is giving a market supervisor a bribe near a market. Women are also taken to “empty rooms” where they are sexually assaulted, according to defectors’ testimonies. Illustration courtesy of Human Rights Watch
A North Korean woman is giving a market supervisor a bribe near a market. Women are also taken to “empty rooms” where they are sexually assaulted, according to defectors’ testimonies. Illustration courtesy of Human Rights Watch

Nov. 1 (UPI) -- North Korean women suffer in silence after they are sexually harassed, assaulted or raped, according to a report published Thursday.

Kenneth Roth, executive director of Human Rights Watch, said Thursday at a press conference in Seoul sexual violence in the North is a major issue everyone is acutely aware of but nobody wants to talk about, South Korean newspaper Herald Business reported.

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Women are attacked regularly but they cannot report the crimes because the perpetrators involve state officials, according to HRW.

The victims are also forced to stay silent because of the social stigma attached to sexual abuse.

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Lee So-yeon, a North Korean refugee who now heads the nonprofit New Korea Women's Union, said women in North Korea's military are unable to find justice after rape.

Lee said during her time in the army, reports of abuse only led to penalties for the victims. More than 30 women were investigated, but of the group three women were accused of "playing around" with men and punished.

The HRW report, "You Cry at Night but Don't Know Why," is the result of interviews conducted from January 2015 to July 2018, with a total of 106 refugees: 72 women, four girls and 30 men.

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Of the group surveyed 57 individuals said they had left after 2011, or during Kim Jong Un's period of rule.

Sexual abuse is particularly common among women who sell goods in North Korea's rapidly growing markets. The women travel across the different regions, and while working are assaulted by North Korean security officers and police, according to testimonies.

One woman who spoke under the alias Oh Jung-hee, identified as being in her 40s, said she had been raped repeatedly. The defector said officers would order her into a "nearby empty room" outside markets and attack her.

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Roth told reporters Thursday the purpose of the report is not to destabilize the North Korean regime but request its highest authorities to solve the issue of sexual violence.

The report comes at a time when a new resolution condemning North Korea human rights abuses was submitted to the Third Committee of the United Nations General Assembly. The European Union and Japan submitted the resolution, according to South Korean news service News 1.

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