Korean pop stars Jung Joon-young and Choi Jong-hoon were handed prison terms Friday for raping women on two separate occasions in 2016. Both cases emerged from the so-called Burning Sun scandal that was uncovered earlier this year.
Singer-songwriter Jung was given a six-year sentence for drugging a woman and raping her while she was unconscious. He was also sentenced for distributing a video of himself having sex with her. Choi, a member of the FT Island band, was sentenced to five years in prison.
The pair insisted that the sex was consensual, but the judge did not accept that argument. “Jung and Choi took part in gang rape of victims who were intoxicated and unable to resist. It is hard to fathom the extent of suffering the victims must have gone through,” the judge said, according to the Yonhap news agency.
The Burning Sun scandal, named after a Gangnam nightclub controlled by K-pop star Seungri of the Big Bang group, came to light after chat-group messages emerged online. The messages appeared to show up to 10 stars involved in bribery, violence against customers, procuring prostitutes for VIPs, rape, drug trafficking and drug use, according to the Seoul police. Seungri is also accused of illegal gambling.
The judge said that Jung and Choi treated their victims as “sexual objects” to be exploited and that the two men “should assume social responsibility in proportion to their fame and wealth.”
The K-pop industry has been rocked by a string of high-profile scandals, while women in the patriarchal and hierarchical country have begun to push back against sexism, exploitation and sex crimes. Last year, women marched in Seoul with the refrain “My life is not your porn,” a specific reference to a huge wave of incidents involving spycam videos.
The sex and drug scandals stand in stark contrast to the squeaky-clean image that the Korean pop industry likes to project, and the impossible standards to which Korean fans appear to hold their stars.
Groomed and closely managed by the handful of management agencies that have created the acts to conform to the latest trends, K-pop band members are often expected not to show any outward sign of romantic lives. Additionally, when stars fall from their perches, social media pressure from fans can be both intense and vicious.
In the past weeks, the toxic combination of idolatry and insane pressure to create and maintain an unreal image has again come into the spotlight with the death of two female stars.
Last week, singer-actor Goo Hara died at 28. Earlier in the year she had been the victim of sexual revenge porn threats from a former boyfriend, and is believed to have tried to kill herself in the spring. Goo’s boyfriend was found guilty of assault, but was acquitted of the blackmail charges. After the case Goo was dropped by her agency.
Goo was also close friends of another star, Sulli (real name Choi Jin-ri), who died in October. According to her manager, Sulli, formerly part of girl group f(x), had recently suffered from depression.