South Korea 'molka' sex scandal: As more horrors are revealed the country's sex crime problem is laid bare

The 'Telegram Nth Room' case sparked outrage after it was revealed that an estimated 260,000 participants paid for access to explicit sexual footage


                            South Korea 'molka' sex scandal: As more horrors are revealed the country's sex crime problem is laid bare
(Jean Chung/Getty Images)

Last week, another sex abuse scandal rocked South Korea amid the coronavirus outbreak after Seoul police arrested the operator of multiple sexual abuse chat rooms on messaging apps like Telegram.

The case, now referred to as "Telegram Nth Room" sparked widespread outrage after it was revealed that an estimated 260,000 participants paid up to 1.5 million won ($1,200) for access to explicit sexual and sometimes violent footage of victims, including nude photos. The disturbing case involves the alleged coercion and blackmailing of at least 58 women and 16 girls beginning in late 2018. Authorities have detained 18 additional perpetrators and arrested over a hundred other chat room participants.

The women and girls were lured under false pretenses, including employment offers and fake modeling jobs. Their names and contact details were gathered and then used to blackmail them into producing increasingly cruel and dehumanizing footage.

The man behind the ring was revealed to be 24-year-old Cho Ju-bin. A 16-year-old was arrested for a separate ring after it was revealed that he formed the group in October last year after a fall out with operators of a similar Telegram group, one of whom is Ju-bin.

South Korea is no stranger to sex abuse scandals. Sexual crimes occur in South Korea at an average rate of 3.4 per hour and 80.4 per day,  according to a Statistics Korea report.  The newest one created so much public outrage that President Moon Jae-in called for comprehensive measures to eradicate digital sex crimes, including the creation of a task force comprised of related agencies and civic experts.

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In his weekly meeting with Prime Minister Chung Sye-Kyun, Moon addressed the "Nth Room" scandal involving chat groups on the Telegram messenger service accused of sharing sexually exploitative videos of women and underage girls. He said the public must never again suffer from similar incidents.

Last year, the Burning Sun scandal gained prominence which involved several celebrities, including Korean idols of popular K-pop groups, and police officials. The allegations of sex crimes added to the country's "epidemic" of what is called "molka", a Korean word for the online distribution of unconsented sex videos taken of women.

The scandal quickly encompassed allegations of rape and spy cams when singer and entertainer Jung Joon-young confessed to secretly filming himself having sex with women and sharing the videos, without their knowledge or consent. On March 14, Yong Jun-Hyung of Highlight and Choi Jong-hoon of F.T. Island resigned from their positions, after allegations they were participants in the chatroom and the agency for Lee Jong-hyun of CNBLUE admitted his involvement.

"Molka" ranked third in South Korea's most Tweeted about social issues in 2018, outranked only by #SchoolMeToo and ‘feminism’ (first and second respectively). "My life is not your porn" became a slogan popularized in protests as a response to the prevalence of spy cameras installed in everyday places.

Article 14 of the "Act on Special Cases Concerning the Punishment, etc. of Sexual Crimes" lists taking or distributing unauthorized pictures or videos as a crime. However, Article 10 in Section 2 of the Criminal Act rules that sentences can be reduced when the perpetrator is mentally impaired. The Criminal Act also sees a drunk person as a mentally impaired person, leading to Ju-bin's sentence reduced on appeal, raising outrage among South Koreans on the lenient punishment. Many called for the article be scrapped.

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South Koreans have long been dissatisfied with the country's response to sex crimes. In an interview with local press, Seo Seung-hee, head of the Korea Cyber Sexual Response Center noted that the country lacked relevant laws to punish cybersex crimes related to mobile messaging services.

She also noted that new laws needed to be established to punish the possession of all obscene materials, citing the fact that Ju-bin’s followers, by enjoying the illegal material, were all contributors to the crime. Seo also pointed out that while it is important to decide punishments, such crimes could recur as long as the so-called “rape culture” continues to exist in South Korean society.

South Koreans are also bothered by the Criminal Act because of the light punishment it mandates for sex crimes. Many say the government has failed to take the problem seriously even after Cho Doo-soon’s crime stirred public fury. The Cho Doo-soon Case refers to an assault that took place in December 2008, in which an eight-year-old girl known only as Na-young was on her way to school when she was kidnapped by 57-year-old Cho Doo-soon, who was drunk at the time. Doo-soon raped and beat Nayoung at a public squat toilet.

Some suggest that harsh punishment, such as the death penalty or chemical castration, is needed to tackle sex crimes. In any case, the government needs to revise the laws promptly to impose heavier punishment for all kinds of sex crimes.

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