The Telegram Nth is a digital sexual crime case where perpetrators sold access to sexually exploitive videos of ordinary women, including minors, through Telegram, a foreign mobile messenger app. On March 16, the police arrested Cho Joo-bin, the main administrator of Telegram’s ‘Baksa room’, who is suspected of forcing minors and other women to film sexual exploitation videos, while he spread them along with the victims’ personal information through his private channels run on a private pay-per-view system. On April 13, the prosecution arrested and charged Cho for producing sexually exploitive videos and distributing them.
|▲ Photo of Cho Joo-bin, the main administrator of Telegram's 'Baksa room'. (Photo from Yonhap news)|
The Nth rooms opened in the second half of 2018, after a pornographic site called ‘Soranet’ was closed. It began with a person nicknamed ‘God God’, who created 9 chat rooms and constantly uploaded these sexual exploitive videos. He approached female users with ‘deviant accounts’ on Twitter and found out their personal information by hacking links and impersonating police. Some were adolescent girls, while the others were women in their 20s. Later, he demanded the victims film sexual exploitation videos, threatening them with the disclosure of their personal information. Furthermore, similar Nth rooms kept emerging even after his sudden disappearance in February 2019. In July 2019, ‘Baksa room’ appeared, imitating the Nth room and sharing even more provocative videos. The operator Jo Joo-bin lured the victims on twitter and other chatting applications by saying that he recruits models. After receiving their personal information, as well as nude photos including their faces, he threatened them with their release unless they provide him with sexually exploitative videos. He referred to his victims as slaves, forcing them to mark ‘slave’ or ‘baksa’ on their bodies and making them to lift their little fingers, to prove they were following his instructions. The ‘Baksa room’ included a sample chat room where the sexually exploitive videos were available, and 3 other chat rooms where people had to pay to enter. The entrance fee turned out to be between 200,000 won and 250,000 won for the first stage, 700,000 won for the second stage and 1,500,000 for the third stage. Cho made the people who paid the admission fee to validate themselves by their identification card, so he could threaten them if information about the ‘Baksa rooms’ leaked. He avoided tracing by investigative agencies by conducting the transaction using cryptocurrencies such as Bit-coin. It is estimated that the perpetrators used Telegram because its server is located abroad, which makes it harder for authorities hard to seize and search them, and they can erase all their own chat records.
The Telegram Nth room case has caused a lasting shock in our society. The perpetrators threatened immature minors with using personal information if they did not comply with their demands, thereby forcing them to participate in the exploitive videos. Even more shocking is that 260,000 people were signed up to watch them. Ordinary citizens were outraged at how such a heinous crime could go unnoticed, and this led to a petition to the Blue House to disclose the identities of the alleged ‘Baksa’ followers. The petition earned the active support of around 1.5 million people. Publicity for the petition was promoted by the ‘Nth room Crime Prevention Guards,’ a four-member youth civic group, who created a website detailing information about the Telegram Nth room case and of Cheong Wa Dae and provided links to the National Assembly’s petition. The Telegram Nth room case has prompted the government and the prosecution to take tough measures against cyber sexual crimes, as well as those that take place in society. President Moon Jae-in said that the government will provide all necessary support to the victims, including legal and medical counseling. He said, “I will take the signing of nearly 3 million people on the Blue House petition board as a cry of the people, especially women, to cut off such malicious cyber-sex crimes." In addition, he added that the police will have to recognize the case as a serious crime and thoroughly investigate it, in order to punish the perpetrators, especially for digital sex crimes against children and adolescents. The prosecution plans to request the Korea Communications Standards Commission delete the videos and block access to them by providing them with the illegal website addresses and videos.
For an in-depth analysis of the Telegram Nth room case, The Dankook Herald (DKH) conducted an interview with the Korea Cyber Sexual Violence Response Center. First, the DKH asked about the differences between the Telegram Nth room case and previous sex crimes. They answered that the Telegram adoption pattern is a repetition of the sexual exploitation pattern that has been going on across platforms for a long time. However, not only in the Nth room case, but also in any of the Telegram’s sexual exploitation sites, the characteristic that stands out is ‘collectivity’. Cyber-sex violence exploded simultaneously when the nature of chat rooms and groups met. At the peak of its existence, 20,000 participants gathered in one chat room and transaction to watch sexually exploitive videos were conducted in more than 60 rooms all day at the same time.
According to the interview, to find the root cause of cyber sexual bullying, we need to focus on the fact that the majority of the victims are women. The common characteristic of Telegram rooms and the sexual exploitation group is the obsession with women's identities. When the DKH asked about how this case will be punished, they answered that these cyber sexual violence crimes are subject to the 'Sexual Violence Punishment Act', 'The Information and Communication Network Promotion and Information Protection Act.' Based on current law, it will be punished according to the 'Information and Communication Network Promotion and Information Protection Act', 'the Special Act on the Punishment of Sexual Violence Crimes', and the 'Act on the Protection of Children/Adolescents.' When the DKH asked about what practical measures are needed to prevent secondary damage and protect victims, they explained, "First, a joint group of lawyers to support the victims is needed. Since 2013, a system has been implemented to assist lawyers for victims of sexual violence, but among digital-based sex crimes, victims are often not provided with the same institutional support as victims of sexual violence. Second, we need to establish a support network that can assist victims of sexual exploitation, such as those in the Telegram case. Sexual harassment victims and their families can receive counseling and support at sexual violence counseling centers and prostitution counseling centers across the country. Third, it is essential to enact and revise laws to respond strongly to digital-based sexual exploitation, including those committed in the Telegram sexual exploitation case. In order to stop downloading and selling sex-related content, the 20th National Assembly should establish and apply laws addressing the crime of possession (including streaming) and distribution-threats as soon as possible." Lastly, when the DKH asked what minors and adults can do to prevent such cyber-sexual violence, they answered that not only strengthening punishment is important, but understanding that committing sexual violence is a serious crime should be made common sense in our society. Also, it's important to voice your support of people who expose sexual violence in group chat communities.
The fact that Telegram Nth room case included minors whose judgment ability was not mature enough, and the perpetrators ordered victims to film videos of themselves performing lewd acts, provoked public indignation. More people are claiming that not only the perpetrators, but also the consumers of the sexually exploitive material should be punished, criticizing current sentencing guidelines and the judiciary. Victims of the Telegram Nth room case are still suffering from serious trauma, worrying about the possibility that their videos may be shared again on the internet. Based on social awareness about the seriousness of cyber sexual crimes, stern punishment is necessary to eradicate the sexual objectification of women and to prevent crimes from happening again in the future.
|▲ Just five days after the petition began, 2.2 million people agreed to post the identities of suspects in Telegram Nth room case and to set up photo lines. (Photo from Cheongwadae's national petition website)|
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