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YouTuber says photo studio coerced her into taking nudes

May 18,2018
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Yang Ye-won, a YouTube star, cries in a video where she recounts being coerced into taking nude photos at a photo studio three years ago. [SCREEN CAPTURE]
The Mapo Police Precinct is investigating a photo studio in Hapjeong-dong, western Seoul, after a YouTube star came forward with allegations on Thursday that its photographers coerced her into taking nude photos and sexually assaulted her.

Yang Ye-won, who runs a YouTube channel called “Beagle Couple,” uploaded a video to the channel recounting her experience at the photo studio after sexually explicit photos of her appeared on pornographic websites earlier this month. “I was a victim of sexual assault,” she said.

Three years ago, Yang applied for a part-time modeling gig at the studio. At the time, she was an aspiring actress. “Everything seemed fine at first,” Yang said in her video. “I just thought the studio was very clean.”

After an interview and trial shoot, she signed a contract with the studio owner to do five more shoots. He promised to introduce her to some producers and directors he knew if she did a good job. “He told me the shoots would generally be simple, but there would sometimes be a ‘sexy concept,’” she said.

When she went back to the studio, she was immediately coerced into taking sexually explicit photos, she said.

“When I entered, the owner locked the door and then put another lock on the door,” Yang said. “I saw about 20 men holding their cameras while smoking. That’s when I realized something was wrong.”

The owner then handed her a set of lingerie. “It was all see-through,” she said, “exposing my genital area.”

When Yang refused, the owner pressured her by saying she would have to pay the compensation fee for each photographer in the room if she canceled. They would also sue. He then threatened to tell producers and directors about her refusal so she would “never even be able to debut as an actress.”

“It was the first time in my life I was in such a savage, horrific atmosphere,” she said. “I thought since my family wasn’t financially well off, I shouldn’t do this, but at the same time, I was questioning what I’d do if I got sued and afraid I’d never even become an actress.”

Yang finally agreed to do the shoot and told herself she would only withstand it for that day. When she stepped on set, photographers took turns trying to pose with her. “They said they’d help with the pose, touching my breasts and genital area here and there,” she said. “I was so scared and couldn’t even fight back.”

Yang said she only had one thought in her head - to get out alive. “If I don’t do as they say, no one will know if I’m raped or even killed,” she recalled thinking.

During the shoot, photographers told her to pull down her underwear and finger herself. “I couldn’t refuse because I was the only girl in a sealed room with all these men and was so scared,” she said. “After the first shoot, the owner asked me, ‘It wasn’t that bad, right?”

When Yang said she wouldn’t model anymore, the owner threatened to release the photos. She ended up doing four more shoots and was sexually assaulted each time. Yang said she even heard one photographer pick up his phone and say, “Dad’s at work. I’ll call you when it ends.”

Yang said she felt compelled to come forward with her story after hearing others go through a similar experience at the studio. When Yang discovered the photos of her on a pornographic site, she also noticed photos of an acquaintance, Lee So-yoon. Lee posted a similar story on her Facebook page a day earlier.

“I’ve talked to many people, and they’ve given me the strength to come forward with my story and report the case,” Yang said.

The studio has reportedly denied the allegations. Because the explicit pictures are uploaded to foreign websites with overseas IP addresses many years later, police may have a difficult time tracing them back to the studio.

Yang asked viewers to stop blaming victims and instead help them overcome their trauma. A petition that she created on the Blue House’s website demanding a thorough investigation has received thousands of signatures.

BY LAURA SONG [song.hankyul@joongang.co.kr]