Trigger warning: sexual assault, abuse

South Korea’s ‘Nth rooms’ are a horrifying mixture of sex, tech and crime.

When sex traffickers wished to sexually enslave women and girls before the development of the internet and rise in technology such as smartphones, they had to convince them to meet them before kidnapping them. But now, this has changed. It is not so difficult to physically control someone, breaking them psychologically and emotionally. Access to the internet has made this possible, giving predators and rapists a myriad of opportunities, even going as far as streaming it. 

South Korea, the home to K-pop entertainment that is soaring in popularity across the Western world is yet again reeling from another serious sexual abuse scandal. Sex crimes are not something that is uncommon in South Korea, but an act that is alarmingly increasing. 

Just last year, the so-called Burning Sunscandal erupted, involving a series of sex crimes committed by famous K-pop stars and other wealthy men. Well known, and cherished artists shocked the nation when they were found to have been involved in the rape, drugging and unconsented nude photography of women. These photos they shared with their friends, showing zero empathy or remorse. 

It was only a year after that when another sex crime shocked South Korea. Before news of the pandemic flooded the media, South Korea was preoccupied with the investigation of the Nth Chat rooms, where 260,000 men have been linked to the sexual abuse of 74 women, including teenagers. 

These women would be blackmailed by pimps essentially to perform disturbing sexual contents such as cutting off their nipples, incestuous sex, carving the word ‘slave’ with a knife on their bodies, inserting objects into their vagina, eating faeces and etc. The contents were posted and streamed for other men to watch in return for cryptocurrency on the chatting app called Telegram.

These victims had no reason to meet their exploiters, but they made their lives nightmarish by assigning them what type of content they should provide. The youngest was identified as an 11-year-old girl. 

The number of men viewing the content in these chat rooms has surpassed 10,000 daily, making it a case of online sexual exploitation of an unprecedented scale. Despite this, there has been very little media coverage, leading to a petition signed by 2 million people to urge the government to reveal the identity of the original culprit. 

24- year old Cho Joo-Bin was the original ringleader behind the chat rooms on Telegram. He often sought vulnerable women and offered them modelling jobs but would instead secure and weaponize their personal information against them. Despite a large number of rising views, no one did anything or contacted the authorities. 

What is truly horrifying is that nth rooms have led to the resurfacing of multiple similar chat rooms, ran by different men, some even young boys. Now there is a whole network of chat rooms, each accommodating different sexual fetishes for predators and no possible way of catching them. 

This is a stark reminder that in many countries, crimes against women are not taken seriously, particularly in South Korea where in spite of the prevalence of digital sex crimes, the punishment is very lenient. Under Korean law, producers of child pornography can receive up to life sentences, but most get away with less, with the average being two years in 2017 as reported in the Ministry of Gender Equality and Family. 

Combatting this issue entails addressing the patriarchal values of South Korean society and holding men accountable for such atrocious crimes. Over the years south Korean women have protested of the lack of attention sex crimes receive, including the historic women’s rallies in 2018 against the usage of spycams in public restrooms. 

Whilst news of the nth chat rooms is shocking to many, South Korean women are all too familiar with such incidents. They anticipate defeat already, most of them believing that the men responsible for this crime will receive light or no punishment. They are right to feel this way.