A case of a company CEO taking advantage of trainees has made headlines recently, as has discourse over the morality of minors being in the industry’s system to begin with, and so The Hankyoreh decided to take a closer look at incidents like these that have happened over the past two years.
In their report, they reveal the typical ways perpetrators take advantage of trainees, citing cases as examples. For instance demanding that trainees excessively expose their bodies to check on their “appearance” and/or “talents”, which sounds identical to the most recent case.
In one case, a teenage female trainee, identified as “A,” was contacted last year by “B,” the head of her agency, who asked her what “efforts” she had been making recently. B called A into his office and ordered her to take off her clothes. He then sexually assaulted her. In his first trial, the court sentenced B to one year in prison suspended for two years and ordered him to complete 40 hours of sexual assault treatment courses.“ The crime in this case was very serious, as the accused is the operator of an entertainment agency who assaulted the victim, an affiliated trainee,” the court said. But B did not receive any order prohibiting him from working in environments involving interaction with children, adolescents, or disabled persons. Entertainment agencies are included in the category of workplaces where convicted sex offenders are barred from employment. Ultimately, B was not subject to any restrictions on operating or working for an entertainment agency.
Another method described as “common” was company execs using the promise of stardom and/or a debut to coerce idol trainees into doing sexually exploitative acts.
“Not everyone can rise to the top,” said one agency head, identified as “C,” to entertainers belonging to a troupe.“ If you do well by me, I’ll help you out,” he also said. C gave work and exclusive stories to those who acceded to his requests for physical contact. The victims were not in a position to say no, since they would not be able to work if they didn’t agree. C insisted that the victims’ allegations of sexual exploitation were “far-fetched claims by people trying to get out of their contract”; he has even filed complaints against them for “insult” and “false allegations.” The trial court rejected C’s argument, as he had previously been sentenced to probation for molesting a trainee after coercing them into drinking alcohol during an interview, and as he had committed another crime while on probation. In January of last year, the court convicted C of molestation through abuse of occupational authority, sentencing him to one year in prison and 80 hours of sexual violence prevention training as well as issuing an order forbidding him from gaining employment at facilities for children, adolescents, or disabled people for the next five years.
Of course, even looking at the cases brought forward is problematic because the power dynamic between company executives and trainees means that many cases never come to light in the legal system or in any form. Indeed, there were many cases of idol trainees being wary of going to authorities, sometimes due to fear.
Such was the findings of a study that examined the human rights situation of children and adolescents working in Korea’s pop culture industry, which was released by the National Human Rights Commission of Korea in December of 2020. Even when they were harmed sexually, the report pointed out, victims “were not able to proactively speak out about their victimization due to concerns about earning disfavor or because of the daunting nature of raising a complaint.” In-depth interviews with industry insiders also demonstrated this realistic barrier. “D,” who provides instructions to trainees, commented, “[Managers] make physical contact [with trainees] like it’s the most natural thing in the world, saying, ‘I’ll help you stretch.’ Such instances happen all too frequently. [Trainees] aren’t able to tell their companies such things.” “E,” a trainee, said, “Male teachers touch you when talking. Things didn’t go too far in my case, but a friend told me that she was touched on the thigh and stuff like that.”
All of that is perhaps made most disturbing by the fact that 43% of the trainees are under the age of 19, according to a 2021 study.
It’s bleak, of course, and the problem is finding a solution to all this. The report cites a Gender Equality Center run by the Korea Creative Content Agency as a resource, but that doesn’t really cut the heart of the issue of prevention. Obviously I don’t have all the answers (or any of them) either, and quite frankly a reality is that there probably isn’t a neat one, but at least providing justice for the ones who do come forward could be a start.