It’s the latest scandal to rock the K-pop industry, a lucrative music genre that rose to global fame for its clean, feel-good vibes but whose stars have also become ensnared in sexual violence and abuse scandals that have shocked their heavily female audiences.
Guilty of rape and secretly filming and sharing the crimes
Judge Kang Seong-Soo told the court Friday that Jung’s victims were “drunk and unable to resist” and that he “filmed them nude and having sex, then spread it on a group chat.”
“We can’t imagine the pain the victims might have felt who found out later,” the judge added, according to the BBC.
Jung and Choi, both 30, are also banned from working with minors and must undergo 80 hours of anti-sexual violence training.
Both men have denied the rape charges and insisted that any sex was consensual.
Jung left the music business in March after admitting to secretly filming sex with women and distributing it. He told the court Friday that regarding the illicit filming, “I deeply regret my foolishness and I feel great remorse.”
The court, however, said that Choi, a former member of South Korean boy band FT Island, “did not feel remorse after mass-raping drunken victims,” the BBC reported.
“The defendants are well-known celebrities and friends, but the chat they’ve had showed that they simply considered women as objects of sexual pleasure, and committed crimes that were extremely serious,” the judge said at the sentencing.
One of several sexual violence and abuse scandals rocking K-pop
The cases against the men were uncovered as police were probing other allegations against another K-pop star in the group chat who ran publicity for a club, the Burning Sun, in an upscale Seoul neighborhood.
The Seoul Metropolitan Police have alleged that a litany of crimes occurred at the club, including bribery, rape, procuring women for prostitution and drug trafficking.
In stark contrast to Jung and Choi’s crimes, K-pop stars are under intense pressure from the industry to maintain squeaky-clean public personas, which includes restrictions on their dating and social life.
Part of a culture in which women are treated as “sexual commodities”
The investigations have also underscored deep gender inequalities in Korean society.
“Women [in South Korea] are routinely treated as sexual commodities in South Korea’s male chauvinistic culture,” Kwon-Kim Hyun-young, a women’s studies scholar and visiting professor at Korea National University of Arts, told The Washington Post’s Min Joo Kim.
“Girls in South Korea grow up admiring and loving K-pop boy bands,” she said. “The misogynistic behavior of male K-pop stars, who enjoy financial and popular support from mostly female fans, is a shocking hypocrisy and an act of betrayal.”
Last year, tens of thousands of women in South Korea marched against “molka” — in which women are secretly filmed having sex and the footage is uploaded to websites — under the slogan “My Life is Not Your Porn.”
Still, victims of molka face intense public scrutiny and shame for coming forward. There are also major legal impediments.
“Most spy cam-related bills, including some that aim to fine or imprison service providers who don’t delete such footage from their websites, continue to stall in the National Assembly, leaving the victims of these crimes to continue to try to find justice in a flawed system,” Seoul-based journalist Haeryun Kang wrote in The Post.
Suffering of K-pop female stars underscored in recent deaths
This month, K-pop singer Goo Hara, 28, was found dead at her home in Seoul. Investigators said the cause of death could have been suicide.
Six months earlier, she had been found unconscious after an apparent suicide attempt.
Before her death, Goo had been in a public battle after coming forward as a victim of so-called revenge porn: In 2018, she accused her ex-boyfriend of secretly filming them having sex and then threatening to circulate the footage.
A court in August found the boyfriend guilty of assault and threatening to circulate the film, but not of secretly taping her.
In another shock to the industry, in October, top South Korean K-pop singer and actress Sulli, 25, was found dead in her house in what investigators say also may have been a suicide.
The star, whose legal name is Choi Jin-ri, had been open about the abuse she faced and her mental health struggles. She had also taken the rare step of acknowledging she was dating a rapper, despite the fact that “K-pop stars usually face pressure not to date because it can disillusion their fans and undermine their career,” The Post reported.
Sulli and Goo had been friends.
“If she [Sulli] is found to have taken her own life, it would highlight the huge pressures on K-pop stars exerted by exploitative management companies and demanding fans and the lack of mental health support,” The Post’s Min Joo Kim and Simon Denyer reported.
Both women “had suffered from enormous amounts of cyberbullying and abuse online,” Kang wrote. “The deaths, so close together, are a chilling wake-up call to the harsh realities — not just for K-pop stars, but for all South Korean women, dangerously vulnerable in the face of abuse and violence.”