A bizarre incident involving the arrest of a South Korean woman in Australia for “producing child abuse material” has re-ignited the online gender discourse in South Korea.
On Nov. 21, Australian Federal Police released a statement saying it had arrested a “27-year-old female Korean national” the previous day in Darwin, Australia, and that “the woman was conveyed to the Darwin Watch House and later charged with one count of producing child abuse material, contrary to section 125 of the Criminal Code Act of the Northern Territory.”
It all started when an anonymous user, claiming to reside in Australia, wrote a post on the Womad forum on Sunday Nov. 19, where the user, whose identity cannot be linked definitively to the woman arrested by Australian police, detailed having abused a young boy.
Womad, a controversial South Korean feminist website, is a forum often described as misandrist. Last year, the site was created when the founding members splintered away from Megalia, another feminist site, after the latter decided to ban any derogatory slurs against gay men.
The user claimed to work at a place with an outdoor swimming pool and accommodation facilities. There, the user claims to have ground a sleeping pill and mixed it into a cup of orange juice, giving it to a young boy that came out to play by the pool at 11 p.m.
The user then goes in detail about sexually abusing the unconscious boy, including touching his genitals. The Womad post is filled with letterings equivalent to “lol” and includes a screenshot of the user’s computer desktop purportedly showing a folder containing seven videos of the alleged assault dated to Nov. 18. One video icon in particular shows male genitalia.
The post ends with the user saying that the videos could not be uploaded, because Womad did not allow it. The original post has now been deleted but is still accessible via a webpage capture site. In it, other users can be seen asking to send them the video of the alleged abuse.
A few hours after the Womad posting, members of the far-right website Ilbe tried to track down the user’s identity, ultimately claiming it was a South Korean feminist YouTuber ‘Australia Gookja,’ who was known to have supported Womad in the past.
The evidence, the Ilbe members claimed, was in a video (now deleted) that Australia Gookja had uploaded, showing the background of her computer to be identical to the desktop background of the alleged sex assault screencapture posted on Womad.
Australia Gookja denied the claims, saying she’d take legal actions against those spreading false rumors.
On Nov. 20, the day of the unknown woman’s arrest by Australian police, Gookja broadcast a live stream of herself on her sub-YouTube channel, denying the Ilbe accusations and seeking 3 million won (approx. US$2,700) to mount a defamation court case against the accusers.
During the stream, the sound of police entering her house can be heard asking for her identification. The video then goes silent.
Australian Federal Police’s media department told Korea Exposé that it is not able to provide any further comment on the matter but that “the woman appeared in the Darwin Local Court yesterday [Nov. 21] and was remanded in custody. The next court date is set for Jan. 17, 2018.”
As it turns out, the images uploaded by the Womad user appear to in fact be digitally altered videos/pictures from a 2009 YouTube video called, “Why you should not fall asleep before your sister” and a Japanese blog dating back to 2010. Neither of them contained contents related to pedophilia.
Korea Exposé could not independently verify that a connection exists between the Womad user, Australia Gookja and the 27-year-old South Korean woman arrested by Australian Federal Police.
But regardless of the veracity of the actors, a familiar gender war has been reignited in South Korean cyberspace over what constitutes proper feminism.
Megalia and Womad both began as responses to South Korea’s deeply entrenched culture of misogyny and gender inequality. Both sites gained infamy as places for women to anonymously post grievances against South Korean men, often mirroring the hateful languages that are found on male-dominated internet forums such as Ilbe, where users — mostly anonymous young men in their teens to 30s — routinely objectify women through hateful language, and sometimes even speak of engaging in abuse of young girls.
Megalia and Womad claim they use these copycat tactics — talking about Korean men in hateful terms, including mocking their supposedly tiny penises — specifically to point out the misogyny in South Korean society as feminists.
Taken out of context, these slurs can be seen as pure hate and misandry; even within context, it’s not always clear how ironic the slurs are meant to be, especially when a group of Megalians directed them at gay men in late 2015. When the slurs against gay men were banned, this group eventually splintered from the forum to form Womad. To supporters, Megalia and/or Womad are re-appropriating the abuse normally directed at women; to opponents, they’re “man-haters” soiling the image of feminism.
In a video dated Nov. 18, the day before the Womad scandal, YouTuber Australia Gookja had said, “If you type the words ‘Ilbe younger cousin,’ so many inappropriate pictures come up…. Whereas when I upload a photo of a child because he looks cute, I get called a crazy bitch,” referring to a picture of a child on a bench she had posted on Twitter in September.
It’s no coincidence that the most passionate investigators of the Womad “child abuse” post come from Ilbe, a community that thrives on supporting “men’s rights,” claiming that feminists like Womadians are alienating and disenfranchising South Korean men, who they argue enjoy fewer privileges than South Korean women.
This specific war between Ilbe and Womad, two communities often perceived to be extremist, is an extreme example of how the larger discourse surrounding gender equality is unfolding in South Korea. But the outcome over this Womad post reflects an inequality even where consequences are concerned: If Australia Gookja was indeed responsible for the controversial Womad post and is the same person Australian Federal Police has arrested, she may go to prison; but many South Korean men, who commit similar offenses (or much worse), evade punishment (since they are in South Korea and not Australia).
And the controversy over gender inequality in South Korea continues to rage.
Cover: Screenshot from Womad’s homepage. (Source: Womad)
Read more about Megalia, a powerful actor in South Korean feminism: