I can remember the first time I heard about South Korea’s spy cameras.

Just after arriving in Seoul. I was running to the public loo along the river Han while on a bike ride with a friend.

“Check it doesn’t have a camera in it,” she shouted as I ran in. I turned around and laughed. But she wasn’t kidding.

Many women have told me that the first thing they do when they go to a public restroom in South Korea is check for any peepholes or cameras. Just in case.

Because the country is in the grip of what’s been described as a spy camera epidemic.

Hidden cameras capture women – and sometimes men – undressing, going to the bathroom, or even in changing rooms in clothing stores, gyms and swimming pools. The videos are posted online on pop-up pornography sites.

Activists in Seoul now warn that unless more is done to prevent it, this type of crime is likely to spread to other countries and will prove difficult to stop.

More than 6,000 cases of so-called spy cam porn are reported to the police each year, and 80% of the victims are women.

It’s feared that hundreds more don’t come forward to tell their stories. Some are filmed by men they thought were their friends.

The BBC spoke to one woman we’ve called Kim. She was filmed under the table at a restaurant. He put a small camera up her skirt. She spotted him and grabbed his phone – only to find other footage of her on there, and being discussed by other men.

“When I first saw the chat room, I was so shocked, my mind went blank and I started crying,” Kim said. She went to the police but reporting the incident made her feel even more vulnerable.

“I kept thinking, what would other people think? Will the police officer think that my clothes were too revealing? That I look cheap?

“In the police station, I felt lonely. I felt all the men were looking at me as if I was a piece of meat or a sexual object. I felt frightened.

“I didn’t tell anyone. I was afraid of being blamed. I was afraid my family, friends and people around me would look at me as these men looked at me.”

The man was never punished.

Not just a Korean problem

South Korea is among the most technologically advanced and digitally connected countries in the world. They lead the world in smart phone ownership – nearly 90% of adults have one and 93% have access to the internet.

But it is these very advances that makes this crime so difficult to detect and the criminals so difficult to catch.

Park Soo-yeon founded the group Digital Sex Crime Out under the name Ha Yena in 2015 as part of a campaign to bring down one of the most notorious websites called Soranet.

It had more than a million users and hosted thousands of videos taken and shared without the knowledge or consent of the women featured. Many of the website’s spy cam videos were taken secretly in toilets and store changing rooms, or posted by ex-partners out for revenge.

Some of the women who appeared in the videos took their own lives.

“It is possible to bring down these videos but it is a real problem because it emerges again and again,” says Ms Park.

“Distribution is a big challenge. The host sites put forward a defence saying they did not know these videos were filmed illegally. Really? How can they not know?”

She wants to target the distributors and believes that it needs to be an international effort.

“Digital sex crimes are not just a problem in Korea. There have been cases in Sweden and in the United States. But South Korea is so advanced technologically, with the fastest and most accessible internet in the world.

“That means these online crimes against women have become a big issue here first. It will not be long before this becomes a big problem in other countries. So we need to work together to solve the issue internationally.”

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