South Korea’s ‘nth chambers’ are a toxic mix of tech, sex and crime

Haeryun Kang is the Creative Director of videocusIN, a media incubator in Seoul. His most recent short film is “Color of Rage: The Nth Room”.

You may not know if you were sitting next to a criminal in the “nth bedroom” in the Seoul subway, even if he was committing a crime at the time. All it would look like is a man typing on his phone, scrolling down, sneering, smiling.

The “nth rooms” are chat rooms on the Telegram messaging app where users illegally produce and exchange sexually dehumanizing images of women. Victims, many of whom are minors, are often coerced by Telegram users into abusing their bodies. The perpetrators are said to have turned actual assaults into online content.

With the trial later this month of Cho Joo-bin, creator of various Telegram rooms according to police, South Korea has to grapple with this toxic mix of technology, sex and crime; to institutions that have failed to eradicate it; and the national culture of misogyny that made it possible.

The original discussion group called “Nth Room” is said to have popped up on Telegram in 2018 or early 2019. There is now a whole network, each with different names like “slave room”, “women’s room” or “rape your own.” knowledge room. “

Underage girls have been degraded, forced to bark like dogs or lie naked on the floor of a public men’s toilet. “Violins” was a greeting almost as common as “hello”. Victims were often tricked into giving personal details to perpetrators and then blackmailed into obeying the sexual whims of Telegram users.

The exhausting fact is that while Telegram talks use a new platform, men’s tactics and their dehumanization of women are oppressive. Soranet was a website riddled with footage of female spy cameras and even real-time invitations to rape women. It was closed in 2016, but similar websites have sprung up before and after it closed.

During last year’s Burning Sun scandal, K-pop stars shared illegally filmed videos of women they had had sex with. “You raped her, LOL,” said one of their conversations.

It may sound abnormal, but it fits into a larger pattern of behavior here. It is normal to assess the appearance of his acquaintances, especially women, down to their face. Young female K-pop idols make Lolita fantasies come true of older men. The players objectify the women. Men enjoy spycam as a genre of pornography.

Korean institutions are not catching up to rectify this horrible standard. Law enforcement is more reactive than preventive, often organizing task forces after a scandal has made headlines. Cooperation with governments at the international level, given that a lot of criminal activity takes place on foreign servers and platforms, is always a lagging process.

Digital sex crimes in South Korea, even those targeting children, are known to carry light sentences. Under Korean law, producers of child pornography can be sentenced to life imprisonment, but in reality the average was only two years in 2017, the Department of Gender Equality reported. and Family. Son Jong-woo, the creator of one of the world’s best-known child pornography sites, was sentenced to 18 months in prison.

Despite growing public awareness, including the historic 2018 women’s rallies against spy cameras, Korea’s centralized education system needs to go further. Her sex education has been criticized for being sexist, typical of a widespread lack of gender sensitivity in schools. Last year an entire school administration famous for producing K-pop stars was accused of sexually exploiting its students.

Cho Joo-bin, leader of the South Korean online sexual blackmail network, leaves a Seoul police station on March 25: more than 100 suspects have been arrested in the Telegram scandal. © Reuters

Meanwhile, more than 100 suspects have been arrested in the Telegram scandal. The majority of them are young men under the age of 40. The exact extent of these alleged crimes is unknown, but according to the Korea Cyber ​​Sexual Violence Response Center, there were 260,000 users of 56 monitored chats on Telegram.

The penalties for digital sex criminals must be tougher. It is not enough to look to precedents for sentencing guidelines. Digital sex crimes are unprecedented; they require new definitions, new guidelines. Improvements are coming, slowly, like the 2018 Supreme Court decision to extend the definition of a sex crime to interactions beyond physical person-to-person assault.

More than 2 million people have signed a petition to disclose all the faces of Telegram suspects, something law enforcement rarely does, reflecting the desperation to punish alleged perpetrators, at least, with public shame.

There is a palpable concern, especially among women, that abusers are not getting what they deserve. This concern seems justified: recently, one of the creators of the nth original rooms was sentenced to 42 months in prison.

But tougher penalties alone will not suffice. Korean society must face the uncomfortable reality that the sexual dehumanization of women is pervasive beyond nth halls: in schools, workplaces, politics, and the seemingly harmless habits of everyday life.

Conversations about feminism need to go beyond “these women hate men” or “men are hurting too; feminism is only reverse discrimination between the sexes ”. Schools should actively educate students, especially young men, on the importance of gender sensitivity.

There is currently only a trickle of voices saying, “We need feminism in school”, especially after an elementary school teacher was severely harassed in 2017 for coming out as a feminist.

Without concerted and comprehensive efforts from different sectors of society, the nth room will happen again. And digital sex offenders will return to the crowds, their faces indistinguishable from others on the subway.

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