A photograph on the Internet shows Michael Kiok gazing into the eyes of his life partner, Cessy. Cessy is an eight-year-old German shepherd.
Kiok, 52, is a zoophile -- by his estimation one of 100,000 in Germany. The university librarian is sexually attracted to animals.
Hans-Michael Goldmann, an animal protection expert who chairs the federal parliament’s agricultural committee, is neither moved, nor amused. "Anybody who has sex with animals forces the animals into behavior contrary to their nature," says Goldmann.
The committee decided on Wednesday on several new amendments to Germany’s animal protection laws whereby sexual relations with animals would become illegal, punishable with fines up to 25,000 euros. Among other practices to be outlawed: castrating piglets and branding horses without anesthesia.
Parliament will vote on the amendments in December. The opposition has already stated that in its view the amendments are not far-reaching enough.
As things presently stand, under German law only those who "out of brutality inflict pain and suffering on a vertebrate" or cause an animal constant pain, can be prosecuted. Sexual contact with animals as such is not punishable by law. Paragraph 175b, which made "unnatural congress with animals" punishable, was struck from the law in 1969.
Kiok believes the underlying issue here is moral intolerance for a practice also known as bestiality. He knows the zoophile scene well: He’s been living his preferences openly since 1995, and is acquainted with “about 100” other zoophiles. He talks about gatherings that used to take place at a farm in northern Germany, lasting for several days, that for many were “the highpoint of the year.” What exactly went on during the gatherings he’s not saying.
Kiok is the chairman of the ZETA (Zoophile Engagement for Tolerance and Information) association. The zoophilia scene includes people who view animals as life partners and claim that sex with them is not forced but “consensual.” Then there are the "Beastys," for whom zoophilia is about sexual kicks, and finally the "Furries" who dress like animals. All of these different types of zoophiles would meet up at the farm until the owner stopped renting.
No more horses
When Kiok explains all this, it sounds utterly banal. He’s not only attracted to dogs, he says, but to horses as well. "But I stay away from horses; the danger of falling in love is simply too great." When he was younger, he recalls, he "had a relationship with a mare." Anyway, on a librarian's salary, he can’t afford to keep a horse, but a dog poses no such problem.
When veterinarian Nicola Siemers was confronted for the first time with what used to be called sodomy, it was a shock. When a female dog was brought to her practice with wounds to her genital area, at first Siemers suspected nothing untoward: "You just don’t think of something like that." But then she noticed that the dog’s claws had been painted with red fingernail polish.
Siemers initiated a petition "Veterinarians Against Zoophilia and Sodomy," and has written to the Ministry of Agriculture repeatedly about bringing people like Michael Kiok into line.
Many of the things Siemers has documented are difficult to take. She focuses on zoosadism -- the practice of torturing animals for the sadist’s sexual pleasure. Siemers says she sent some images to the Ministry of Food, Agriculture and Consumer Protection. The subject fills her “with horror” and anger that nothing can be done to free animals subjected to this treatment, and that even injured and disturbed animals have to be given back to their owners.
Siemers has received "nasty emails" from Kiok, who clearly sees himself as a sensitive, animal-loving person. But Siemers finds it hard to keep quiet when Kiok speaks openly about his predilection and claims the right to live it fully and openly. "Bitches are in heat just twice a year for about eight days,” she says. "Having a relationship of the type Kiok describes is not only contrary to their nature, it’s bad for the dog."
Thomas Schröder, president of the German Association for the Protection of Animals, agrees with Siemers on this and while happy "that sodomy will finally become illegal" believes the law will be impossible to enforce because doing so would involve mandatory veterinary check-ups that would have to be financed by the states.
In any case, the law is very uneven on animal issues, he points out: Factory farming and animal experiments remain legal -- a point Kiok also makes. If German society allows that sort of horrific treatment of animals, forbidding the sort of relationship he has with his dog makes no sense.
Michael Kiok’s public campaign may be a good thing, however. "He’s bringing the issue out into the open," says Schröder. "Now people know, yes, this exists, it’s a real problem."
For their part, activists like Siemers are circulating information to raise awareness about animal brothels and farms that rent out animals for sex. According to Birgit Schröder, the author of a book on zoophilia, more than 500,000 animals die every year in Germany because of “extreme sex practices” by humans. That figure is viewed as excessive by Hans-Michael Goldmann, the chair of the committee that drafted the new amendments.
For his part, Michael Kiok says he intends to continue his fight against the changes to the law.
Crunching the numbers of South Korea's personal and household debt offers a glimpse into what drives the win-or-die plot of the Netflix hit produced in the Asian country.
SEOUL — The South Korean series Squid Game has become the most viewed series on Netflix, watched by over 111 million viewers and counting. It has also generated a wave of debate online and off about its provocative message about contemporary life.
The plot follows the story of a desperate man in debt, who receives a mysterious invitation to play a game in which the contestants gamble their lives on six childhood games, with the winner awarded a prize of 45.6 billion won ($38 million)... while the losers face death.
It's a plot that many have noted is not quite as surreal as it sounds, a reflection of the reality of Korean society today mired in personal debt.
Seoul housing prices top London and New York
In the polished streets of downtown Seoul, one sees endless cards and coupons advertising loans scattered on the ground. Since the outbreak of the pandemic, as the demand for loans in South Korea has exploded, lax lending policies have led to a rapid increase in personal debt.
According to the South Korean Central Bank's "Monetary Credit Policy Report," household debt reached 105% of GDP in the first quarter of this year, equivalent to approximately $1.5 trillion at the end of March, with a major share tied up in home mortgages.
Average home loans are equivalent to 270% of annual income.
One reason behind the debts is the soaring housing prices. In Seoul, home to nearly half of the country's population, housing prices are now among the highest in the world. The price to income ratio (PIR), which weighs the average price of a home to the average annual household income, is 12.04 in Seoul, compared to 8.4 in San Francisco, 8.2 in London and 5.4 in New York.
According to the Korea Real Estate Commission, 42.1% of all home purchases in January 2021 were by young Koreans in their 20s and 30s. For those in their 30s, the average amount borrowed is equivalent to 270% of their annual income.
Playing the stock market
At the same time, the South Korean stock market is booming. The increased demand to buy stocks has led to an increase in other loans such as credit. The ratio for Korean shareholders conducting credit financing, i.e. borrowing from securities companies to secure stock holdings, had reached 21.4 trillion won ($17.7 billion), further increasing the indebtedness of households.
A 30-year-old Seoul office worker who bought stocks through various forms of borrowing was interviewed by Reuters this year, and said he was "very foolish not to take advantage of the rebound."
In addition to his 100 million won ($84,000) overdraft account, he also took out a 100 million won loan against his house in Seoul, and a 50 million won stock pledge. All of these demands on the stock market have further exacerbated the problem of household debt.
42.1% of all home purchases in January 2021 were by young Koreans in their 20s and 30s
Game of survival
In response to the accumulating financial risks, the Bank of Korea has restricted the release of loans and has announced its first interest rate hike in three years at the end of August.
But experts believe that even if banks cut loans or raise interest rates, those who need money will look for other ways to borrow, often turning to more costly institutions and mechanisms.
This all risks leading to what one can call a "debt trap," one loan piling on top of another. That brings us back to the plot of Squid Game, "Either you live or I do." South Korean society has turned into a game of survival.
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