‘Cyber ​​hell’ only scratches the surface of South Korea’s sex crimes crisis

South Korea’s ongoing sex crimes crisis is the focus of a gripping new documentary on Netflix—Cyber ​​Hell: Exposing an Internet Horror.

The latest program only reveals the tip of the sex crime iceberg in the Asian country, which can be attributed to “deep-rooted gender inequality” and an increase in gender-based violence, Boram Jang, a researcher on the East Asia at Amnesty International, Told Newsweek.

“According to the Korea Institute of Criminology and Justice, violent crimes such as murder, robbery and arson are generally on the decline in Korean society, but crimes involving sexual violence are steadily increasing,” Jang said.

Released on Wednesday, Netflix’s new documentary follows the exposure of a sex abuse scandal that has seen dozens of women, including minors, allegedly blackmailed into capturing not consensual, sexually explicit pictures and videos of themselves.

The images were shared and sold via online chat rooms – known collectively as “Nth Room” – on the Telegram messaging app, where users paid in cryptocurrency to access images from 2019 to 2020.

A police investigation found that more than 60,000 people were using similar sites, Jang wrote in a May 2022 Amnesty International report.

It is estimated that around 260,000 people paid up to around $1,500 to view the footage and that more than 100 women, including 26 minors, were forced into what authorities called “virtual slavery”. Squire reported in May 2022.

In November 2020, Cho Ju-bin, the operator of the chat rooms, was found guilty of running the online network that blackmailed the victims, Reuters reported. Cho was sentenced to 40 years in prison.

A close up view of the Telegram messaging app seen on a mobile phone screen in May 2017 in London, UK on the app.
Carl Court/Getty Images

South Korea’s Growing Sex Crime Crisis

The online sex blackmail ring exposed in Netflix’s latest documentary only scratches the surface of South Korea’s sex crime crisis, especially digital sex crimes, which have plagued the country for years. for his advanced mobile technology and broadband mobile internet speeds.

Digital sex crimes, a form of gender-based violence, fall into one of four categories, as noted in a Human Rights Watch report in June 2021:

  • Capturing intimate images without consent.
  • Non-consensual sharing of images that may have been captured with consent but were not intended to be shared (such as images taken by or sent to a romantic partner).
  • The production of faked or manipulated images, which are used to impersonate someone online in order to attack their reputation, relationships and safety.
  • Sexual violence increasingly has a digital component, where a rapist can film the crime and share or threaten to share the footage online.

According to the report, prosecutions for sex crimes involving illegal filming increased elevenfold between 2008 (when there were 585 cases) and 2017 (when the figure jumped to 6,615).

In 2020, the country’s rate of digital sex crimes (the vast majority of which are believed to be committed against women) was 7.5 times higher than in 2003. This marks a significant jump from rates of rape and sexual assault. , which increased by 1.6 times. during the same period, according to the Amnesty International report of May 2022.

Digital sex crimes and other sex-related crimes have rocked the K-pop industry in recent years, such as the one involving the late Goo Hara, the K-pop singer who was found dead in her home in November 2019 after posting a “good night” message on her Instagram account.

About a year earlier, Goo’s ex-boyfriend Choi Jong-bum was charged with charges physically harming Goo during a domestic incident and threatening to distribute video footage of the couple having sex.

In November 2019, former K-pop stars Jung Joon-young and Choi Jong-hoon were each sentenced to prison for allegedly gang rape of a drunk and unconscious woman.

Additionally, Jung was found guilty of illegally filming and distributing footage of the assaults via online chat groups.

In February 2019, Seungri, a former member of K-pop boy group Big Bang, was accused of arranging sexual services for wealthy patrons at the Burning Sun nightclub he owned in Seoul.

In August 2021, he was sentenced to three years in prison on several counts, including prostitution mediation.

A close up of hands holding a cell phone.
A close-up of hands holding a mobile phone and looking at images on the screen. The prevalence of digital sex crimes in South Korea has been linked to the development of technology.
iStock/Getty Images Plus

Why are sex crimes so prevalent in South Korea?

While it’s difficult to pinpoint exactly why and for how long sex crimes have been a crisis in the country, “the proliferation of digital sex crimes has been closely linked to the development of digital technology,” Jang said.

“With the introduction of mobile phones with cameras in the early 2000s, women became the primary targets of non-consensual filming”, with the videos thus produced being shared via online services.

“The distribution and consumption of illegally filmed content and exploitative material online has become much faster and easier with improved search algorithm functions and the advent of cloud servers that enable storage and mass sharing,” she said.

The prevalence of sex crimes may be linked to harmful gender stereotypes and other related assumptions that permeate South Korean society, the researcher said.

These are based on an underlying belief that “women are not full persons with dignity and human rights” and are rather “sex objects” whose gender role is to provide services. sex to satisfy men’s needs, she explained.

“The discrimination and patriarchal patterns that cause gender-based violence in South Korea have been replicated and amplified in the digital world,” Jang said.

According to Human Rights Watch’s June 2021 report: “Gender-based violence is widespread, even compared to global estimates that one in three women experience such violence.”

The report also showed that in a 2017 survey of 2,000 South Korean men, almost 80% admitted to perpetrating violence against an intimate partner.

What laws are in place to combat sex crimes in South Korea?

Jang said the country’s National Assembly passed the “Nth Piece Prevention Law” in 2020, which came into force in December 2021.

“The law subjects online platforms to criminal penalties if they do not stop the circulation of digital content involving sexual offenses on their platforms. It also requires them to designate a person responsible for preventing the circulation of such content”, she said.

The South Korean Ministry of Justice also created a Digital Sex Crimes Task Force, which issued a set of recommendations including the following, as Jang pointed out:

  • The establishment of an integrated victim support system.
  • Emergency measures to remove illegal online content immediately.
  • Protection measures for victims of sexual crimes during legal proceedings.
  • Media reporting tips on digital sex crimes.

According to Human Rights Watch’s June 2021 report, once a suspect in a sex crime is investigated, they are usually prosecuted. However, many cases are dropped by prosecutors. In 2019, prosecutors dismissed 46.8% of sex crimes cases, while only about 30% of homicide cases and nearly 20% of robbery cases were dropped.

For prosecutions that result in convictions, the penalties would be “relatively light”. The report says that in 2020, just under 80% of those convicted of capturing intimate non-consensual images received a suspended sentence, a fine or a combination of the two, while just over half received only a suspended sentence.

In the same year, 82% of those convicted of distributing captured and/or distributed non-consensual sexual images received a suspended sentence, a fine, or a combination of the two, the most common sentence (for 53% of defendants sentenced) being only a fine, according to the report.

A national outcry erupted in 2018 after a woman was jailed for posting a nude photo of a man, “while men are usually free in such cases”, according to the Human Rights Watch report. The incident saw a series of protests by tens of thousands of women, who marched through the streets of South Korea’s capital, Seoul, chanting slogans such as “My life is not your porn” and “We are not we not human?”

What still needs to be done?

According to Human Rights Watch, the most fundamental problems are the government’s failure to appreciate the extent of the impact of digital sex crimes on survivors and “the failure to take meaningful action to prevent these crimes, changing the profound gender inequality that normalizes the consumption of non-consensual intimate images.”

Jang said: “It is important to recognize that ICT [Information and Communication Technologies]- facilitated violence against women is a violation of human rights and a form of discrimination and gender-based violence against women. »

According to the Amnesty International researcher, the following key fundamental steps must be taken to help prevent sex crimes and protect victims in South Korea:

  • The government should ensure law enforcement officials are trained and equipped to implement new laws to protect women from online violence.
  • Law enforcement officials should have received adequate gender-sensitive training to eliminate the general perception that online abuse is not a serious crime.
  • Tech companies should improve their reporting mechanisms to ensure consistent enforcement and better response to complaints of violence and abuse.
  • Tech companies should also implement “much more proactive measures” to educate users and make them aware of the security and privacy features of their platforms.

Newsweek contacted the Korea Communications Commission, the National Assembly of South Korea, the Supreme Prosecutor’s Office and the Ministry of Interior and Security for comment.

Man looking at phone in dark lighting.
An image of a man looking at a cell phone in a dark setting with red tinted lighting. According to Amnesty International, the prevalence of sex crimes may be linked to harmful gender stereotypes and other related assumptions that permeate South Korean society.
iStock/Getty Images Plus
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