K-pop: a genre of South Korean music that has captivated an international audience with its bubbly music, high-quality videos, and the main attraction: beautiful “idol” singers. To maintain k-pop’s success, entertainment companies produce new groups of teenage idols in an assembly line fashion. These idols are groomed to become entertainers from childhood and monitored by their agencies even after their debut to ensure that their reputations remain spotless. Despite the efforts of these companies, there are idols whose scandals are leaked to the press. 2016 has been the year of prostitution scandals, and the most shocking offender was Yoo-Chun Park, a member of the boy group JYJ.
In a country known as “Prostitution Paradise”, South Korea’s underground sex industry is not only affluent, but accessible. Services are available in karaoke bars, hotels, and even some coffee shops. Given such convenient access, the Korean Institute of Criminology estimates that 20% of men in their twenties frequent these institutions for sexual services four or more times a month. Park was revealed to be an alleged member of this 20% on June 10, when he was accused of rape, the first of four allegations, by a 24-year-old employee at a nightclub in the Gangnam district of Seoul.
Park has been active in the entertainment industry since 2003 as a former member of the internationally acclaimed boy band TVXQ and a current member of JYJ. Along with being a second generation idol member, Park is a songwriter who has composed songs such as “I Love You” for JYJ’s album The Beginning and a renowned actor who has starred in television dramas. His agency, C-Jes Entertainment countered the allegations of rape by claiming that the plaintiffs were seeking to tarnish Park’s arduously earned reputation with false accusations. The first plaintiff has dropped her lawsuit since; however, there are three others that remain.
Park is under intense public scrutiny, as he was accused of sexual assault in the middle of completing the two years of military service that is compulsory for all South Korean males. Furthermore, the plaintiffs that have filed charges of rape have similar testimonies; the women have claimed that they were sexually assaulted in a bathroom, where there are no CCTV cameras, and that Park refused to let them leave by blocking the exit. Members of a community site have claimed that Park has harboured an obsession for bathrooms, the claim corroborated with a clip of a talk show he had been a guest on in 2008, where he mentioned that he associated toilets with being “beautiful”.
C-Jes Entertainment has taken action by providing alibis that disprove the third and fourth plaintiff’s allegations; for both of the dates of sexual assault submitted, C-Jes Entertainment stated that Park was not in the country but in China to prepare for a concert and to meet fans. Park has filed a countersuit to sue the first plaintiff with charges for false accusations and blackmail and is in the midst of talks with legal counsel to determine what course of action should be taken with the other three plaintiffs.
Though the first plaintiff has withdrawn her lawsuit against Park, he still remains vulnerable to incrimination for prostitution, which is illegal in South Korea. The investigation is still proceeding – there are DNA samples to collect from the victims’ clothes and witnesses to question. Despite the alibis and lack of camera footage, Park’s reputation has been marred by this controversy. Now known as South Korea’s “Bill Cosby”, Park has lost many fans, and one of his fansites has rescinded its support for him. As of June 2016, it cannot be determined who the true victim is: Park or the four plaintiffs.