In a recent interview with South Korean Digitalsoju TV, North Korean women defectors who have served in Kim Jong Un’s’ military gave first-hand accounts of the abuses they endured.
As the former soldiers spoke about how degrading the regime’s treatment of women can get, the rape culture within the organization was soon revealed.
According to Daeun Lee, one of the defectors, the women can serve in the military for six years, while it is mandatory for the men to serve for 11. It is during their service period when the women experience all forms of abuse.
Officers in charge of uniform and ration distribution would often use their power to force female soldiers to have sex with them. As another defector confided, sleeping around is quite common for high-ranking officers.
Such abuse is something Lee herself has gone through, as she shared her personal story during the interview:
“I was in the early stages of malnutrition… I weighed just around 81 pounds and was about 5’2. The Major General was this man who was around 45 years old and I was only 18 years old at the time,” Lee narrated. “But he tried to force himself on me. One day, he tells everyone else to leave except for me. Then he abruptly tells me to take off all my clothes,” she said.
The officer claimed that he was inspecting her for malnutrition, so she could be sent to a hospital for treatment if necessary. Left with no choice, she complied with the Major General’s orders.
“Surely there’s a good reason for this. I never could have imagined he’d try something,” she remembered. She was then told to remove her underwear and “then out of nowhere, he comes at me,” she said.
After sexually assaulting her, the high-ranking officer proceeded to beat her. She said that her ears bled and her teeth were loose after the beating. After the sexual and physical assault, he asked: “How do you think this is going to make me look?” He even threatened her that he would “make [her] life a living hell” should she tell anyone of what transpired.
“There wasn’t really anyone I could tell or report this to,” she said. “Many other women have gone through something similar. I don’t know whether he’s dead or alive, but if Korea ever gets reunified, I’m going to find him and even if I can’t make him feel ten times the pain I felt, I want to at least smack him on the right side of his face the same way he did to me,” she said.
There were other horrors surrounding serving in the North Korean military as a female. As food is scarce, malnutrition is widespread in the country and even those who are in military service are not exempted of this. She shared that at meal times, she was fed only three spoonfuls of rice during her stint in the army.
Lee shared that the women were also made to think that they are not as smart, important, or as strong as the men.
State-issued goods, such as military uniforms, are often regarded as items of high value and that comrades would even steal them from fellow soldiers to make money to buy food and other necessities.
Those who wish to help North Korean refugees in South Korea, Digitalsoju TV suggests working with NGOs, such as TNKR and LiNK. TNKR (Teach North Korean Refugees) helps NK refugees get a private English education and Liberty in North Korea (LiNK) assists North Korean refugees in their journey to freedom and safety through a 3,000-mile rescue route through China and Southeast Asia.