Human Rights Watch Reports on Extensive Sexual Abuse of Women In North Korea
Illustrations, drawn by former North Korean propaganda artist Choi Seong Guk, are inspired by the artist’s experience in North Korea and the testimonies of survivors of sexual abuse (Photo: HRW)

In its report on North Korea, Human Rights Watch has detailed extensive sexual abuse against ordinary North Korean women by officials working for Kim Jong-un’s regime.

The report was based on interviews with a total of 106 North Koreans, comprised of 72 women, four girls, and 30 men. All were interviewed outside the country and provided detailed accounts of rape and sexual abuse that have reportedly become part of daily life. The extensive 98-page report by Human Rights Watch (HRW), was released on Thursday and took more than two years to compile.

"They consider us [sex] toys. We are at the mercy of men," Oh Jung-hee, a former trader in her 40s told the report's authors. "Sometimes, out of nowhere, you cry at night and don't know why."

HRW said the report is an attempt to highlight the culture of open, unaddressed sexual abuse, particularly from men in positions of power in the North Korea.

Of all the sexual assault survivors interviewed for the report, only one said she had tried to report it. None of the others report the assault they suffered because "they did not trust the police and did not believe police would be willing to take action," the report says.

"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," the report quoted a former trader in her 40s who fled North Korea in 2014 (HRW uses an alias). She says she had been sexually assaulted many times. She said that the climate of sexual abuse was so pervasive that it had been normalized -- both by the perpetrators and their victims.

While Pyongyang has laws criminalizing rape, trafficking and having sexual relations with subordinates, the report notes that the North Korean government barely acknowledges the existence of rape in the country. Medical professionals who fled the repressive country said that "there are no protocols for medical treatment and examination of victims of sexual violence to provide therapeutic care or secure medical evidence," the report adds.

Last July, the North Korean government told the UN's Convention on the Elimination of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW) that only nine people in all of North Korea were convicted of rape in 2008, seven in 2011, and five in 2015.