One of the most shocking incidents of this semester is the nth Room case. The entire Korean society is shaken. ST analyzed the numerous problems found in this incident with critical eyes. In order to prevent similar recurrences, ST took note of everything. Let's take a closer look into this sad and unsettling crime. .................. Ed
R eal Cowards, the Power of a Shadow
Telegram is an open-source Internet mobile messenger operated by German LLP. In Korea, it became famous along with the "Kakao Talk Temple Incident" in 2014. Telegram's strong security unexpectedly ensured a world where even sexual exploitation could be secretly distributed.
There were other rooms on Telegram that distributed sexual exploitation contents in the first place. Baksa, who appeared around July last year, started to make a name for himself when he posted his sexual contents in one of the rooms. It was September last year that Baksa emerged as having the “power” of a virtual world at his fingertips. When Baksa extorted cash from the paid members belonging to the Telegram secret rooms and he went into hiding, some users retaliated by exposing what was happening in the room. Baksa then took matters into his own hands by releasing the actual personal information of those who attacked him. Everyone can feel threatened with the disclosure of their personal information, or the destruction of anonymity. It is the moment when Baksa has emerged as a real power in the shadow of Telegram.
Laws in the World of Sexual Exploitation
His technique is almost like an "ant-hell." He recruited women by posting a job on Twitter(also known as "sponsored part-time job") that said it would pay between 3 million to 6 million won immediately. Later, Baksa obtained their personal information via Telegram and called the victims by saying, "It's a certified company, so there's no need to worry.". The Telegram secret room is set to automatically delete conversations after three seconds, so the victims are relieved. Once the trust relationshop is formed between Baksa and the women, Baksa invites the victims to the Telegram secret room and demands that they send naked photos and videos to the "matching man." If she rejects the request, Baksa immediately contacts the victim anad threatens to send their nude photos to their family, friends, and acquaintances.
Baksa's crimes are strictly based on "threats." He finds the personal information of the victims on the Web and searches for the SNS(Social Networking Service) accounts and contact information of their acquaintances. After this, the "matching man" is introduced and when the victim rejects the person, Baksa theratens the victim that he will tell her family by saying, "I'll let them know that you tried to sell sex." He also made it clear to her that he is not hesitant to kill her. However, the money will not be deposited until the woman has given up everthing and obeys Baksa's request. The victims cannot gather evidence of the intimidation and coercion because the logs of the conversation have already disappeared.
Baksa uploads the sexually exploitative videos to the Telegram chat rooms and attracts viewers with an "admission fee" from as little as hundereds of thousands of won to as much as 1 million won. All transactions are specified in Bitcoin.
Cho Ju-bin, "Perp Walk" : Stand on the Photo Line
① On April 16, four Baksa Room operators, including Cho Ju-bin, who was considered a key suspect in the Telegram sexual exploitation case, were arrested by the police on the basis of two journalists, Kim Wan and Oh Yeon-seo, who reported the Telegram sexual exploitation case. It has been four months since the case was publicized the nth Room case by two groups. The first group is the university student press "Tracer-Group Flame," which was the first to announce the Telegram sexual exploitation crime in November last year. Another is "ReSET," a project group that reported the sexual exploitation of Telegram, and began its activities in December last year.
② On April 18, more than 2 million people agreed as of the deadline, with a petition posted on the Blue House National Petition saying, "Please open the personal information and set up a photo line for the suspect in Telegram nth Room." In addition, the demonstration team, which consisted of women, urged Cho to disclose his personal information in a press conference, saying, "It is very unreasonable for the victims not to disclose the suspect's identity, although it is difficult for them to spend their ordinary lives because all of their personal information have been released."
③ On April 25, Cho Ju-bin was placed in front of the photo live at the Jongno Police Station in Seoul. The disclosure of the identities of the perpetrators of sexual violence is unprecedented.
④ On April 29, Cho Ju-bin (25 years old), who was the operator of Telegram's "Baksa Room" and who was put on trial for threatening 8 children and teenagers and rpoducing sexually exploitative videos attended his first trial. Cho faces a total of 14 charges. He is suspected of theratening 8 children and teenagers from Agust to December last year, as well as 17 adults from May to February last year to produce sexual materials and sell and distribute them to Telegram. He is also suspected of coercing a 15-year-old victim to distribute nude videos in October 2019 and involving her in rape through other. He is also suspected of having had the victim recorded,which indicated an extreme choice for the purpose of preventing the broadcast of programs related to the Baksa Room in January, and forcing five people to film promotinal videos for the Baksa Room form September 2019 to February 2020. If the prosecution applies charges of arranging criminal organizations under riminal law, the accomplice of the Baksa Room could also be sentenced to life in prison.
The Massive Petition Movement of the nth Room Case
Since the so-called "nth Room case" became known worldwide, the public has launched a hashtag campaign on SNS to publicize the incident. In addition, they referred to The Blue House National Petition website and persuaded many people to join the petition. Petitions related to sex crimes, such as "disclosure of the identity of all subscribers of Telegram nth Room" and "disclosure of the identity of the suspects in Telegram nth Room and do the Perp Walk," are going up and down. The petition set a record for the highest number of national petitions, achieving more than 2 million participants each, and accordingly received a petition from the National Police Agency Commissioner General Min Gap-ryong.
In the meantime, the posts related to the SNS hashtag and the petition encouragement about the nth Room case have been deleted without any reason on Instagram, which engendered controversy. Since March 22, there has been a series of testimonies in various social media and online communities that stories and posts related to the nth Room have been deleted simultaneously for no reason at all. Our reporter also uploaded a petition-inducing post and interviewed the Instagram users, wondering if the post had disappeared even though he had never deleted it on his own. Lee Yu-kyung (Dong-Ah Institute of Media and Arts, Media Technology, 20) an Instagram user who uploaded and deleted the hashtag story of the nth Room case petition, said, "I heard this from a close acquaintance. If you tag the story, you can see all the Instagram users, not the followers, but the Telegram nth Room subscribers as they come in with a hashtag and share the account.” Instagram drew a line on the allegations of censorship of posts related to the nth Room case and feminism issues. An Instagram official said, "We are not taking any other action by specifying stories or postings related to the nth Room, and we can ask for a review if we think that they have been unfairly deleted."
The Number of Teenage Minors Among the Suspects
Many of the Telegram nth Room suspects, who threatened women to produce and distribute sexually exploitative videos, were found to be teenagers. The level of punishment and disclosure of personal information for minors is also under discussion. The identity and face of Cho's accomplice, also known as “Butta,” were unveiled for the first time as a minor. Butta Kang Hoon drew more attention and public outrage in that he is still a minor who is 18 years old and that he was involved in criminal activities by cashing in cryptocurrency for Baksa Room admission and delivering it to Cho.
As the days go by, the age of underage sex offenders is getting lower. With broader access to information along with arrival of the era of online communication, digital sex crimes have increased and the accessibility of teenagers who are familiar with this has also increased. These technological advancements and the proportion of minors who were enticed or involved in organized crimes have increased.
Police have made it clear that the minors among the suspects of sexual exploitation are not subject to personal disclosure. If the perpetrator is a minor, he or she will be subject to the Juvenile Law, but if the perpetrator is under 14 years of age, he or she will not be punished, but will be subject to protective measures. For this reason, the victim and her parents are unaware of the disposition of the assailant, which was closed under the Juvenile Law, and they constantly live in fear that the assailant could retaliate someday. In this respect, the case of underage perpetrators is insufficient.
The Narration of the Press : "The Assailant Was Also Human."
Some phrases like “A talkative, active, and funny kid,” “a 4.17 grader in college,” and “a perfectionist who doesn't tolerate mistakes” are the ones that can be used in any CEO's autobiography. Unfortunately, these comments are referring to Cho Ju-bin, who distributed sexually exploitative videos of minors and others through Telegram messengers.
Cho, who appeared in front of Jongno Police Station in Seoul at 8 a.m. on March 25, gave a completely different answer to the reporter's words, "Please say a few words to the victims," by saying that "Thank you for stopping the devil's life." In less than a minute, a few sentences he uttered spread on live news broadcasts, and words from his mouth covered portal sites with the title “Breaking News: 1,119 Cases.” This is the amount of breaking news online that came within an hour from 8 a.m. that day when Cho appeared.
Articles such as “Cho Ju-bin Confessed His Involvement in the nth Room,” “Apologize to All the Victims,” and “Cho Wears a Neck Brace: Cannot Bow Down” were criticized for using the words “confessed” and “neck brace.” These evoked unnecessary sympathy to the assailant and glorified the severity of the case.
Furthermore, a day before the disclosure of Cho's personal information was decided, SBS’s Eight O'Clock News reported the personal information about Cho and said that "We want to prevent further damage and help the investigation by finding crimes that are yet to be revealed, and provide people with information as their right to know." However, the content that followed immediately had nothing to do with the people's “right to know,” including information on Cho's school, volunteer work, and friendship. In response, criticism has been raised that it is a "media writing of Cho Ju-bin's autobiography," and the media's attitude toward dealing with sex crimes has emerged as a controversial subject.
There has always been a series of articles giving narratives about the life of a criminal. If it becomes an important clue or a background for the case, it is necessary to point out the criminal's track record. However, acknowledging the assailant's life could rather obscure the nature of the incident. In a rare move, the media union also issued an emergency press release guideline for the nth Room. It stated that “sexual crime is not an exceptional case by an abnormal specific person, so we don't use expressions, such as animal, wolf, or evil.”
Seo Chun-seok, a pediatric psychiatrist and the director of the Happy Children's Institute, said, "Why give a microphone to a felon? I'm not interested in him. I'm just curious about the punishment he'll get." He added, "In the end, he managed to unnerve the world once again, and the victims felt a sense of despondency."
Shin Jin-hee, a public defender for the victims of sexual violence, said, "The media reported that it was a 'sexual exploitation case' and the public could understand the seriousness of the problem well." He also suggested a positive effect by saying, "In some cases, the victims' personal information, which are not related to the nature of the incident, distorted the case with interesting sensational reports. What really matters is whether the criminals should be punished properly. In order to get rid of digital sex crimes, we must devote ourselves to what we should do." He is urging the media to improve its gender sensitivity.
Lee Yoon-so, who is a member of the gender equality media team of the Korean Women's Association and has appeared as a panelist on KBS 1TV's Journalism Talk Show J, said, "Expressing the perpetrators as 'monsters' makes sex crimes irrational, but crimes are mostly committed by acquaintances in everyday life. If it is labeled as a diabolic crime, it will only hinder the resolution of the sexual violence issue.” She also said, "What should be noted in this digital sex crime is not one perpetrator, but the fact that many people involved in the room are still unpunished."
Comparison of Korean and Foreign Sex Crimes Sentences.
Korea is lenient in punishing sex crimes compared to other advanced countries. The reason why rape has become prevalent is because of the light punishment given to the criminal. In Korea, sexual assault and rape crimes can be reduced to drunkenness, serious reflection, or mental illness. In addition, if there is no assault or threat during sexual relations, the situation will not be considered as rape because the victim consented to it. The leniency of the sentence is commuted continuously, thus resulting in a mishap in which 10 years in prison are reduced to 3 years. In a previous case, the nth Room planner, “Watchman,” received a light sentence of three and a half years. It is necessary to strengthen the sentence and punishment of the existing Korean sex crime law. The National Assembly should take these issues seriously and strive to supplement laws and institutions.
China does not report large-scale sex crimes in the media, but it severely punishes sex crimes as compared to South Korea. The Jang Chung-pay child molestation case is an incident in which the perpetrator approached a minor under the age of 14 on the Internet and received nude photos and videos of sexual activity. Furthermore, the number of children who were affected reached 30. The perpetrator was sentenced to 11 years in prison for child molestation, and it is a meaningful case in that it broadened the scope of the establishment of molestation. There are not only prison terms, but also cases of death. China can sentence up to the maximum death penalty for sex crimes, and the crime of sex trafficking girls was abolished in 2015. It could fall under rape regardless of sex with a minor.
Since the U.S. treats sex crimes as a felony comparable to murder, it can sentence sex offenders from 25 years in prison to life imprisonment. If the victim is under the age of 16, the perpetrator will be given an additional punishment, and if the victim is under the age of 12, the perpetrator will be given a heavier punishment. There are laws and systems in the United States that are designed to punish child sex offenders and prevent any occurrence thereof. This includes Megan's Law, Jessica Lunsford Act, and AMBER alert. Megan's Law is a law on the release of sex offenders, which requires police officers to alert their neighbors by informing them of their personal information when they are released from prison. The Jessica Lunsford Act requires children under the age of 12 to be intensively monitored, and the sex offender is required to serve a minimum sentence of 25 years and wear a lifelong location tracking device after being released from prison. AMBER alert is an emergency alert system that sends out information containing the photos and criminal processes of missing children by using various electronic boards, traffic broadcasts, and mobile phones to receive tip-offs or reports from citizens in case of a suspected child abduction. These systems call for citizens to pay attention to their surroundings, thus increasing the victim's initial detection rate to root out sex crimes.
The War Against Digital Sex Crimes
1. Amendment to the Protection of Children Act
Korea's Protection of Children Act states that if a person sends pictures or videos “voluntarily,” he or she has already committed a crime of prostitution. They are classified as “targeted children and adolescents” (↔damaged children and adolescents). If they are classified as targeted children and adolescents, they cannot receive support from public defenders, and sometimes receive protective disposition.
However, civic groups, including the Center for Teenage Women's Human Rights, argue that the concept of “targeted children and teenagers” under the Protection of Children Act is a stumbling block to the victims' escape from the sexual exploitation structure. In the case of prostitution for children and adolescents, sex buyers are naturally punished. However, minors (female in most cases) will also be subject to “protective disposition,” including juvenile detention measures, as the Child and Youth Sexual Protection Act is defined as “targeted children and teenagers.” Since protective disposition is virtually recognized as criminal punishment, it is difficult for minors who enter the prostitution structure and try to escape because they are afraid of protective disposition, and sex buyers often take advantage of this to continue their sexual exploitation of minors. The following revision has been made to the Protection of Children Act in 2016:
- The concept of "targeted children and adolescents" should be removed.
- Professional treatment and education shuld be provided instead of protective disposition.
It has been pending in the National Assembly for two years, with the Ministry of Justice withholding its position. On April 9, however, in the wake of the nth Room case, the Ministry of Justice shifted its position to agree to the revision of the Protection of Children Act being pursued by the Ministry of Gender Equality and Family. On the 29th of the same month, the revision passed the plenary session and a decision was made to define all children and adolescents involved in prostitution as victims. In addition, the foundation for the establishment and operation of the “damaged children and youth support center” was established in order to strengthen both legal and medical protection for them.
2. Nth Room Prevention Law
Since the so-called "Telegram nth Room Prevention Act" passed the National Assembly's plenary session on April 29, the scope of punishment for online sex crimes, including sexual harassment, is expected to expand significantly and the level of punishment will also become heavier.
The nth Room Prevention Act includes the revision of the Act on Special Cases concerning the Punishment of Sexual Violence, a revision of the Criminal Law.
The core is the revision of the Sexual Violence Punishment Act, which calls for the establishment of a clause that requires those who possess, purchase, store, or watch illegal sexual footage to be sentenced to up to three years in prison or fined up to 30 million won. As a result, participants who did not play a leading role, such as Baksa and Gotgot, but shared sexual material made by others in the nth Room, can also be punished. The law also clarified that those who shared the footage with others will be punished for filming the footage of their own bodies.
In the case of the Sexual Violence Punishment Act revision, 19 similar revisions proposed by the 20th National Assembly were combined into one. However, only 6 were proposed this year after the actual Nth Room case. This shows the complacency of the National Assembly, which neglected several bills aimed at rooting out sex crimes before the nth Room case. Among the 19 bills, some were quickly proposed in June 2017.
However, not all legislation of the "nth Room Prevention Act" has been finalized. The “Act on Promotion of Information and Communication Network Utilization and Information Protection” (Information and Communication Method), which gives information and communication service providers the responsibility of preventing the illegal distribution of filming materials and protecting the victims, is expected to cause a lot of controversy as it is difficult to take practical measures against overseas businesses.
Lee Ju-a (Web Editor)
Park Jun-young (ST Reporter)