"Having sex with men who have power over you or letting them touch all over your body is a necessity to survive." Such is the assessment of one of 62 North Korean defectors who left the country after Kim Jong Un took power in 2011 and was interviewed over two years as part of a report on "endemic" sexual abuse in the country for Human Rights Watch, per the Wall Street Journal. On any given day, "market guards or police officials could ask me to follow them to an empty room," says another woman who describes being sexually assaulted many times. "Things like this happen in broad daylight," adds a former police officer and victim, per CNN. She says 90% of the women she knew were victims of sexual assault, perpetrated by government officials, prison guards, and prosecutors. Even in the military, officials "demand sexual favors," she says.
In a sign of just how normalized the abuse is, only one victim said she went to police. North Korea has laws against rape and sex with subordinates, but "when the perpetrator is an official, even if the case comes to the police, it will be ignored," the ex-police officer says. "They are untouchable." North Korea's government last year told a UN committee that only a handful of rape convictions occur each year in the country of 25 million, including five in 2015. One woman says a military commander who assaulted some 30 women was only discharged from service—but so were his victims. "It was considered that … they had actively taken part," she says. Per Reuters, North Korea is "strongly rejecting" the allegations as "unfounded and fictitious." (Defecting isn't easy.)