The Burning Sun scandal brings new meaning to Gangnam style

Remember that 2012 K-Pop hit Gangnam Style by an artist named Psy? It was a harmless pop song about “sexy ladies” which took its name from a posh area of Seoul, South Korea called Gangnam. Gangnam has been described as South Korea’s Beverly Hills. It’s best known for its exclusive nightclubs and wild parties where VIPs will spend incredible amounts of money in a single night out.


Since the start of 2019, South Korea has been engulfed by a sex scandal named after a Gangnam club that first brought the story to public attention. The scandal started with the arrest of a man named Kim Sang-kyo at the Burning Sun nightclub. He claimed he witnessed a woman being sexually harassed inside the club and was trying to intervene when the staff assaulted him. When police arrived, they sided with the club and arrested Kim. The incident took place last November but was first reported on publicly in January of this year after Kim launched a petition demanding an investigation. That report included video of a woman, apparently drugged, being dragged down a hallway inside the club. There were subsequent allegations that women at the club were being drugged and raped by powerful VIPs.

The Burning Sun scandal has since led police to question nearly 4,000 people and arrest nearly 400 of them. A number of K-Pop celebrities have been forced to abandon their careers including the producer of the song Gangnam style because of their connections to the scandal. Today the BBC published a lengthy piece which points out that while prostitution is illegal in South Korea, it is also thriving. But what is happening in Gangnam isn’t just prostitution, often involving underage girls. It’s worse than that. Insiders describe what could be called a systematic conspiracy to rape random women at the behest of Gangnam VIPs. Any woman who catches the eye of such a man could be drugged and handed over against her will:


People we spoke to who were an integral part of Seoul’s club scene have described a culture of exploitation, where the procuring of women for sexual gratification had become almost routine for some wealthy clients.

The clubs employ hosts known as “MDs” to cater to guests’ desires. It’s a murky role – one female MD told us it entailed building relationships with “pretty girls” to bring them into the clubs. They would entice them with the offer of free entry and free drinks.

MDs would have a number of beautiful women on their call lists. Many would encourage them to drink with their clients and the MDs would then take around 13-15% of the drinks sale. With the right clients, some of them would make around $20,000 a month. As one MD put it: “To secure high-paying clients, MDs need to be able to supply hot girls.”

We have heard repeated allegations that at some point and at the request of clients, the women’s drinks were being spiked, rendering them unconscious. However one senior club executive told the BBC that the suggestion GHB had been sold or distributed to customers and sexual assault encouraged was ridiculous.

A former host at a famous Gangnam nightclub said one VVIP – the elite guests – was “well-known for his crazy appetite for unconscious women”.

“He ordered me to bring two totally drunk or unconscious women to him,” he told us. Specifically, he said, the client’s request was: “Bring me zombies.”…

I wanted to ensure I understood what he was telling me. So I put the question to him clearly: “Ordinary women going into the club for a nice night out, could face being drugged and raped? Is that what you saw?”

“Yes,” came the reply.


The BBC even spoke to a patron of one of the clubs who explained why rich men who could easily hire a prostitute might prefer to violate a stranger without her consent:

But one rich club client told us that the men he knew did not want a prostitute. He said comparing prostitutes to ordinary women was “like a business car versus your own car”.

“You cannot touch a normal girl like that easily. The sense of achievement follows when you gain access to certain things that not everyone is allowed to.”…

“You say innocently that ‘I’m only here to dance. Sure, but will people let you only dance? This is a jungle. It’s right that you are here to sightsee, but there are alligators, lions and lizards out to get you. Sexy beautiful women are prey.”

All of these alleged sexual assaults involve the date-rape drug GHB. According to the BBC, the drug usually vanishes from the system within a few hours, making it difficult to prove someone has been given the drug. The President of South Korea has called for an investigation into the allegations of police corruption that are also part of this case.

Here’s a South Korean report on the scandal with English subtitles. About 22 minutes into this clip, you’ll see the attack on Kim Sang-kyo which started all of this. He’s beaten up by a group of guys who then return to the club. When police arrive, instead of looking at the security video, they rough Kim up and arrest him.


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