South Korea’s problem with how foreign brides are treated

The government tries to tackle the thorny issue of migrant brides and domestic violence.

A foreign bride dressed in a traditional Korean wedding outfit.

[This story was written originally for The Diplomat in January 2015.]

When she agreed to marry a foreign man 20 years her senior introduced to her through a local marriage broker, Do Thi My Tien was optimistic she could create a comfortable life for herself abroad.

Tien married Lee Geun-sik, a South Korean, and traveled a world away from her small village in Tay Ninh, a province 100 kilometers from Ho Chi Minh City. In 2005, the newlyweds settled down in South Jeolla Province in the southwestern corner of the country.

But what began 10 years ago with so much hope and promise, ended last year on July 24 in a sordid murder. Police pulled Tien’s body from a deep gorge. She was 27 years of age.

A Vietnamese neighbor told police the couple was fighting days before Tien disappeared, according to local reporting. Lee admitted to killing Tien, and to tossing her body and scooter over the side of a mountain road in a half-baked attempt to conceal his crime. Lee apparently believed he could make it appear like a traffic accident, but the police immediately suspected foul play.

Tien’s death is an extreme and tragic example of the domestic violence that afflicts many families. In South Korea, a total of 123 women were killed by their husbands or partners in 2013, according to the Korea Women’s Hotline, a nationwide women’s group that works to stop domestic violence.

Foreigners account for just 2.5 percent of the population in South Korea, but with a comparatively high number of deaths involving foreign women since 2012, experts from government and nongovernment organizations agree that migrant women here are particularly at risk to domestic violence.

They disagree on much else. According to a senior official at the Gender Equality and Family Ministry, language and cultural barriers are largely to blame for the domestic violence that caused the slew of disturbing killings.

The above pie chart illustrates the number offoreign residents in South Korea as of the end of 2014. Note the majority of foreigners living in Korea at 53.7 percent include both ethnic Korean-Chinese and non-Korean Chinese Nationals.

“Think about it. Several decades ago, Korean women emigrated to Japan or America. They were poor. They didn’t even know who their husbands were. They didn’t speak English, so they couldn’t really often get out of the house. Their husbands started to ignore them. The wives didn’t work, they couldn’t cook American food,” said Choi Sung-ji, director of multicultural family policy at the Ministry of Gender Equality & Family, in explaining the domestic violence faced by migrant women in South Korea.

“The situation is similar in Korea now. Women from Southeast Asian countries come here for a better living without really knowing who they are getting married to. They didn’t get married out of love.”

“Rather, they met them but through marriage brokers,” she said, adding “If they don’t speak the Korean language and do not understand Korean culture, then they are at a disadvantage. There cannot be an equal relationship. “

Love and Marriage

The number of internaitonal marriages in South Korea has skyrocketed. Between 1990 and 2005, for instance, just 250,000 international marriages were registered in South Korea. But nearly as many – some 238,000 –  were registered in just six years, from 2006-2012.

The increase in international marriages started from 1990 for a specific reason: The Cold War ended. South Korea established diplomatic relations with Cold War foes China and Vietnam in 1992, opening up travel and communications for ordinary Koreans, Chinese and Vietnamese.

Although international marriage accounted for only 1.2 percent of marriages in 1990, they represented 13.6 percent in 2006, a ten-fold increase.

As of September 2013 the single largest group of marriage migrants was Vietnamese women, nearly 40,000. Non-Korean Chinese and ethnic-Korean Chinese women formed the second and third largest groups, with women from Japan, the Philippines and Cambodia following them.

In 2007, South Korea’s Multicultural Families Support Act came into force and ushered the opening of multicultural centers around the country. The centers aim to provide various classes and services for migrant women and their families.

Though the act has seen a number of revisions over the years, a reliable constant is the steadily growing number of these government-run multicultural centers. The country has seen 50 such centers set up on an annual basis since 2007. In the past eight years, 217 centers have opened under the Gender Equality Ministry and the budget for multicultural families ballooned to $120 million, a 20-fold increase.


The proper role of these multicultural centers is a point of contention between the Gender Ministry and women and migrant rights groups.

While the centers provide practical classes, such as Korean language instruction, they do so only marginally. For example, only 400 hours a year of language education is guaranteed at any particular center, about an hour a day.

The centers appear more focused on delivering esoteric sounding services for migrant women, such as the so-called “multicultural perception improvement project;” the “family integrated education service,” which is described as providing “culture understanding education;” and the “bi-lingual environment promotion project.”

Choi, a director responsible for overseeing policy on multicultural families, said the programs are designed to foster respect for the mother’s culture in the home and in society.

Critics of that effort and the centers say the government is too focused on “cultural assimilation” and believe the government should instead emphasize legal protections for migrant women, preventing domestic violence and raising the awareness by married couples of human rights.

“Why are we having these classes? It’s a culture show of these women. These [217] multicultural centers are spending their money putting on culture shows. These classes should be fundamentally about raising awareness and teaching migrant women what their rights are,” said Heo Young-sook, secretary general of Women Migrant Human Rights Center of Korea. “Even though we are spending a lot of money on these centers, discrimination against migrant women is getting worse.”

Heo led a street demonstration in Seoul on Dec. 30 that eulogized the seven migrant women killed last year, during which she decried the failure by the government to protect migrant women from domestic violence. She outlined a number of needed changes, including a crackdown on exploitative marriage brokers and a better social system for preventing domestic violence in the country.

“One thing that has to change is the rules preventing new brides from obtaining South Korean citizenship,” she added.

Marriage Visas

If an F6 marriage visa is extended to a migrant newlywed, then he or she can stay in the country for two years. The biannual renewal of his or her visa status depends on the sponsorship of the South Korean spouse, as well as eligibility for permanent residency and naturalization.

The visa system makes marriage migrants vulnerable to domestic violence, insists Heo.

The system makes many marriage migrants dependent on their husbands for their visa status, which can lead abuse both physically and also emotionally, through isolation and seclusion.

To illustrate her point, Heo cited one of the seven women killed last year, a 22-year-old Vietnamese woman identified by the surname Nguyen. The migrant rights activist said she was undocumented because she was estranged from her husband. Nguyen was murdered by a 37-year-old male friend in a motel in Jeju City on Nov. 30.

The Gender Ministry’s Choi acknowledged that multicultural centers need to do a better job educating migrant women about their legal rights. She said a new class focusing on migrant rights will be introduced at centers starting from this year.

The Ministry of Justice also responded to high number of women killed and other reports of domestic violence by tightening requirements for obtaining marriage visas.

Those tougher requirements were welcomed by both inside and outside the government. Both Heo and Choi agreed with the stricter immigration measures.

Since April 2014, Korean spouses have had to meet income and other wealth minimums – an annual income of 14.8 million won ($14,000) – and stiffer language requirements for marriage migrants.

The new rules could have an effect on curbing the increasing rate of new international marriages. A study on marriage migration in South Korea found that over half of 945 multicultural families surveyed in 2006 earned less than the minimum wage (about $8,000 per year).

Whether making international marriages more difficult will decrease domestic violence and, indeed, decrease the number of migrant women killed through 2015 remains to be seen.


Caribbean Bay spycam suspect arrested??? My spycam tech speculation update

spycam girl arrested
The suspect, Choi (27 or 28 years old) is brought into a police station in Yongin, a suburb of Seoul.

The Caribbean Bay shower room spycam suspect was arrested on Aug. 25, about one week after the video clip she shot went viral online here in South Korea.

I took a slightly different approach when I first blogged about it by looking at the technology the woman used to pull off her crime, as this story had already been reported ad nauseam.

Now, this will be the second and last time I post anything about it, but I need to to update my initial speculation as to the kind of technology she employed because a lot of new information was uncovered.

South Korea’s ever intrepid netizens posted captured screen shots like this one all over the interweb. Based on the news at the time and that photo, I had speculated on what kind of spycam tech the woman may have employed.

spycam incident at caribbean bay Screen-Shot-2015-08-17
The suspect caught herself in a mirror in the Caribbean Bay shower room, while she commited her crime. A spycam tech back fire?

But first, before I go ino that in the interest of a little background, it should be noted (as I posted last week), the screen shot here is the result of the spycam shooter inadvertently capturing herself in a mirror while she was surreptitiously sneaking vids of naked women in the shower room at this super popular South Korean water park, Caribbean Bay.

Based on the netizen-distributed screen shot, I had speculated that she may have used a simple periscope iPhone case, such as  COVR Photo (pictured here below). It simply uses miniature periscope tech to redirect the smartphone’s camera. It is also designed to look like a simple iPhone case. The idea being if you snap pics or record vids like this you will capture more naturalistic moments. The price company sells them off their web site run from $55 to $69.99.

I emailed the company to ask them what they thought and got this response:

“COVR Photo is a family-run business with the goal of capturing life’s most special moments in a simpler way without the intrusion of technology. As the industry leader in smartphone lens-case technology, we make it our responsibility to set an example for how current and future companies like ours should brand, market, and conduct themselves,” said  Thomas Hurst, Founder & President – COVR Photo in an email to me on this topic.

COVR Photo for iPhone 6 and iPhoneS6
Covr Photo uses miniature periscope technology to redirect the smartphone’s camera and is designed to look like a simple iPhone case.

I noted in the email to him that spycam tech is really common, the device could be any number of similar technologies, but that his product does some what resemble the device in the screen shot. To that point, Thomas Hurst said this:

“As you said yourself, the technology is common. As a leader in smartphone lens-case accessories, COVR Photo is committed to doing everything we can to ensure that our patented COVR Photo cases are being sold in the market we’ve invented it for.”

“That said, as with any company who is on the forefront of technological advancement, how people choose to use that technology is based on their own morality. There will always be people who choose to misuse technology for the worst possible outcome. Unfortunately, situations such as the water park video in South Korea have been happening long before the advent of smartphone cameras or camera-lens cases.”

Sure. Technology is to some extent “value neutral.” But in the case of spycam tech, I would maintain that the vast majority of people are not mindful of how easily their privacy can be compromised.

Back to the tech. Based on statements reported in the Korean press, the hidden cam shooter appears to have used spycam tech similar to, but not necessarily the very same, as the one pictured below, a DVR 225 by KJB Security Products, Inc. Another company making a similar device, the ICM-12, by Taiwan-based Clever Intelliegence Unity, Inc. This device below looks similar to both brands.

spycam tech photo aug 29 2015
Spec summary of the miniature camera: The spycam is designed to look like an extended power case for iPhone 4, 4s, 5, or 5s. It has a pinhole lens with 1080pHD recording,UI software with 12 video settings, third of an inch MP3 Color Camera with wide dynamic range, and auto orientation and focus. They run about $408.99 on amazon.

So, based on those reports since her arrest, as I said I need to update my speculation. After she was caught she was quoted telling police that she used a “miniature spycam video recorder from Taiwan,” one that is made to look like an iPhone battery charging case, anyways that according to Korean press reports.


Based on her statement — again, as reported in the Korean press — I think the spycam tech she used was probably something like this one,  a miniature camera made to look like a battery charging case.

After the suspect’s face was revealed like it was in the mirror of the shower room at Caribbean Bay, the police were able to start a simple identity search. But apparently they could not cross-reference that vid clip of her face with CCTV at Caribbean Bay entrances and other locations because — and again, as quoted from Korean press reports — all of the security footage from Caribbean Bay had already been deleted.

The suspect, identified as Choi (27 or 28 years old) was arrested on Aug. 25 at 9:00am at her residence, after a domestic violence call was made by Choi against her father. The father apparently assaulted her as a result of discovering she borrowed money from relatives and about 900,000 to 1 million won for three separate videos she shot at three water park locations including the Caribbean Bay video.

She told police she got the camera from an unidentified man that she had met in an online chat site. She gave the camera back to him and also sold him the videos.

Police in Yongin, Gyeonggi Province south of Seoul  booked Choi and charged her with sexual assault using a hidden camera. The crime carries up to five years in prison and/or a maximum fine of W10 million ($9,000).

South Korean police on Aug. 27 also arrested a man in connection to the crime surnamed Kang and aged 33.


Caribbean Bay hidden video appears to have been shot by iPhone spycam accessory

The perp behind the spy cam incident in South Korea that went viral and infuriated thousands of netizens — not too mention millions of women here — appears to have used a simple $70-dollar iPhone spycam accessory.

Promo photo of Everland’s Caribbean Bay

In case you do not know, a video clip went viral on the internet here in South Korea during the week Aug. 17, showing dozens and dozens of young women showering at what appears to be Caribbean Bay.

Now, for those of you who don’t know about Caribbean Bay, let me sum it up this way, so we can get to the main part of the story. It is a water park that sells sex to teenagers and young adults here in South Korea.

It has long been called a meat market for young people to hook up. I nothing against that. God bless them. As an older slacker nerd, I have never even bothered going there, because I knew better. I would just embarrass myself. Caribbean Bay is  water park for the young and the hot. By the way, it is located just south of Seoul in Yongin City, Gyeonggi Province.

(And yes the place is super popular and crowded. Well, maybe less so after this scandal.)

Spy cams have been around for years– decades even– but the tech is getting much better in recent years in terms of battery life, frames per second and pic resolution.

Popular spy cams on the market include Black Box Mobius Pro Mini Action Camera, which is about two-figures wide and retails for about $80.00, and Photo COVR case which allows the photo-clicker to snap sneaky pics and video.

COVR Photo is made by a Bellevue, Washington-based startup. More on that later.  Sneaky pervert videographers are a huge concern in South Korea, maybe more here than in other big cities around the world. The Seoul Metro Police even designate the period from April 1 to July 31 as “Subway Sexual Assault Crackdown” to scare off and/or nab wannabe spycam pervs.

The poster from 2014 reads “Subway Sexual Assaults Intensive Crackdown.” The dates of the crackdown on the poster are: April1 to July 31. Is it a scare crow measure, or are the cops really cracking down?

Police focus on the city’s public transportation network which is vast and  crowded. The place with highest reported number of cases of pervy spycam activities is the area around Jongno 3-ga Station, 91 out of 971 cases in 2013. That is really a lot. Think about it. There are 100s of subway stations in Seoul and just one station out of 100s sees more than 10 percent of the total number of cases the police handled in 2013.

The incident of course infuriated women here, and it agitated Korea’s netizens to no end, too, but it also embarrassed Caribbean Bay’s parent company Everland.

Seoul Police on Aug. 18 said they started an investigation after a complaint from the Everland Resort, a company that owns the Caribbean Bay water park. But you have to wonder if the company is not also liable for allowing people’s privacy to violated like this. If you have an amusement park one should be able to expact a basic level of safety to be assured by the managers and owners, including privacy being protected to some basic extent. But that is just me, maybe.

Police said Wednesday they believe the 10-minute video footage titled, “Korean Water Park Shower Hidden Cam Videos Released,” was filmed last year before being released on a U.S.-based website. A woman in her 20s is suspected of having secretly recorded the footage.

Why do people think that a women in her 20s in particular did it. How in the world could they know that? Well, because of Korea’s netizens of course. It appears some of them analyzed the vid-clip and discovered that the person responsible for shooting the video clipped herself in a mirror for a split second. She appears to be using a device resembling a cell phone, and is pretending to be texting while secretly filming:

Netizens caught a split second reveal by the alleged perp who appears to be using COVR Photo iPhone spy cam accessory. What do you think?

The device she is using appears very much like COVR Photo. Doesn’t it? When Google Glass started shipping out
in April 2013 out to early testers privacy advocates were worried. I mean, it is true that Google Glass wearers could snap secret photos or video of anyone they were looking at.

Recently, however, two fully funded crowd sourced projects have proved that the humble iPhone can be just as secretive for sneaky snaps. COVR Photo makes taking a photo on your iPhone pretty inconspicuous.  To be  honest, this so-called “spy cam” is simply one more iPhone accessory. And as the web site says, it is meant to be able to snap “natural looking” pics and video. The COVR Photo case is made for the iPhone 5 and 5s and iPhone 6 and 6S. It features a “periscoping lens.” That means you can position the phone flat in your hand to candidly snap pictures without the subject  notices.

COVR Photo for iPhone 6 and iPhoneS6


COVR Photo for the iPhone 5/5S

Basically, you can appear to be looking at t
he screen on your phone while actually snapping a photo of the per
son or object directly in front of you, as seen below.

That is exactly what the perp is doing in the screen shot. So, I leave it to you the reader. Is it a hasty conclusion on my part to identify her spy cam device as a COVR Photo iPhone accessory? I will leave that to you guys and gals to decide.

U.S. soldier dies after street fight in Seoul nightlife district

Carl Lissone, a member of 304th Expeditionary Signal Battalion, seeen here in this photo taken from a facebook profile registered in his name.
Carl Lissone, a member of 304th Expeditionary Signal Battalion, seeen here in this photo taken from a facebook profile registered in his name.

This story first appeared in The Korea Herald on May 8, 2014.

A United States serviceman died after a brawl on the street outside a popular dance club in Seoul’s Hongdae district on Sunday over the extended Children’s Day weekend.

Carl Lissone and three others, who had spent the evening drinking and dancing at Club Naked, got into a quarrel shortly after exiting the establishment in the early hours of May 4.

Outside the club, which is popular among men and women serving in the U.S. military stationed here, the 20-year-old Lissone was knocked unconscious during a fight with another U.S. serviceman, according to a government source familiar with the situation.

Although Lissone was bleeding from his nose and ears, two of the three men brought him not to a nearby hospital but to a motel in Pyeongtaek, Gyeonggi Province, near Camp Humphreys, where they are stationed.

Lissone was then taken to Good Morning Hospital in Pyeongtaek, where he was pronounced dead.

The men did not report his death to military authorities until 1 p.m. that day. Criminal charges against any of the three men have not yet been made, a United States Forces Korea spokesperson said.

“There was one soldier who essentially became unresponsive and he did die. The facts of what actually happened are a part of the KNP (Korean National Police)’s investigation,” said Col. Shawn Stroud, chief of public affairs for the 8th Army. “There is obviously deep sorrow within the 8th Army and within his unit, as well as back in the States where his family lives.”

The soldiers were in violation of multiple USFK rules placed on its personnel, including the underage consumption of alcohol, violating curfew and fighting.

Military authorities are now considering placing Club Naked on the list of locations off-limits to U.S. military personnel as a result of the incident, according to the government source.

Stroud said it is too soon to speculate whether the soldier’s death could push the USFK to prohibit all servicemen from visiting Hongdae, saying, “That is something the senior leadership will look at.”

According to a Facebook page registered in his name, Lissone was a graduate of Lithonia High School in Lithonia, Georgia, in the greater Atlanta area.

Lissone was a part of the 304th Expeditionary Signal Battalion, which was the first element to relocate to Camp Humphreys in December 2012 as part of the 2004 Land Partnership Program agreement between the U.S. and South Korea to move American soldiers south of the Hangang River.

Lithonia High School alumni have created the hashtag #RIPCarlLissone on Twitter for those wishing to send prayers and condolences for Lissone and his family.

The Ahyon-dong Murder

This story originally appear in the Korea Observer in January 2015.

Police are calling it, “The Ahyon-dong murder.” A Korean man stabbed to death a Chinese woman identified by the surname Lee on the night of Jan. 12 on a narrow street in a residential part of Ahyon-dong, nearby the prestigious Ewha Woman’s University.

The 42-year old married woman was found bleeding profusely from multiple stab wounds by neighbors, who called the police at 11:51p.m. “Come quick! A woman is bleeding really bad!” a neighbor reportedly told a 119 emergency operator (South Korea’s emergency number is 119).

Lee was rushed to a nearby hospital, but could not be revived. She was pronounced dead at 12:33a.m.

Seoul Mapo Police apprehended a 31-year old Korean man identified by the surname Choi at his apartment on Jan. 16 at 5:00p.m., and brought him in for questioning. He was charged with the murder of Lee the next day, Jan. 17.

According to police, Lee and Choi went to a Noribang and continued the evening drinking together at Choi’s apartment in Ahyon-dong on the night in question.

Police are looking into the possibility that Lee was killed as she attempted to break up her love affair with the Korean male 11 years her junior. She was stabbed to death outside on the street about 30 meters from Choi’s apartment perhaps as she attempted flee.

Part of the murder was caught on CCTV located in a stairwell of a building near the murder scene.

Lee was a married woman, according to police. Lee married a Korean man identified by the surname Kim, 42. It was her second marriage. She met Kim 10 years ago in China. They lived together in Manwon-dong.

“There was no reason for (Lee) to be in Ahyondong that night. I always had the impression that my son (Kim) and (Lee) had a happy marriage. They had no special marital problems,” Lee’s mother-in-law told a reporter from Newsis.

Lee’s purse, cell phone and other belongings were found on her body at the scene, which led police to believe she was killed by an acquaintance. Police followed the trail to Choi by using Lee’s cell phone to contact her friends who informed them she had planned to meet Choi on the night in question.

When they caught up with Choi at his apartment on the Jan. 16, they found him with the bloodstained murder weapon and still wearing the clothes from that night. He was described by police as “resigned.” He went with police without incident.