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Nth Room Case shows Korea's need to protect victims

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On March 25, 25-year-old Cho Joo-Bin nonchalantly spoke to the women he blackmailed into sexual slavery: “I apologize to those who were hurt by me… Thank you for ending the life of a demon that I couldn’t stop.”

On the messaging app Telegram, Cho hid behind the alias “ baksa ” (“doctor”) and blackmailed dozens of underage girls and women. He is part of the “N bun bang” (“Nth Room”) case that, from 2018 to earlier this year, trapped 74 victims into sexual slavery. 16 of these victims were underage, with the youngest being just nine years old.

Cho blackmailed women into performing sexual acts, carving “ nuh-yeh ” (“slave”) on their skin, and other unthinkable things.

Unfortunately, the case does not stop at Cho. “Over 260,000 users", on the app Telegram, still continue to view and distribute the videos of the victims through pay-to-view chat rooms that they call “ N bun bang ” (“Nth rooms”). To join, these users paid between 200 thousand won ($164.25) for the lowest level or up to 1.5 million won ($1,200) for the highest level, depending on how much content they wish to have access to. They also had to “prove” themselves by posting sexually abusive content of their own and publishing misogynistic comments.

Cho has been behind bars since Sept. 2019. However, this is hardly comforting. Cho may be locked away from society for now, but the users in the chat rooms continue to roam freely. While the victims’ faces and identities are exposed, these users can hide away their sinister secret lives and continue offline as if nothing happened.

South Korea’s president, Moon Jae In, has at least publicly acknowledged the case. He called for police to establish a special investigation team and bring justice for the victims. He sent his condolences to those affected and assures measures will be taken to prevent another case like this.

I want to believe Moon. I’m sure many others do, too. However, I know that these criminals hiding behind their screens will not receive so much as a slap on the wrist.

Korea’s punishment for possession of child pornography is embarrassingly light. At most, the Nth room users will face a year of prison or pay a fine of 20 million won ($16,306.36). More realistically, they will not see a shred of punishment.

Regardless of where you are, there are a handful of simple ways you can speak out. Companies need to be aware of how their platform is being used. Telegram currently displays an above-four-star rating on both the Apple Store and the Google Play store. Recent reviews on both show one-star reviews that shed light on this case.

However, holding Telegram accountable is only a short-term solution. It would be only a matter of time before these predators take this case to another platform. A petition that will go to President Moon asks Korea if the country “will not protect children from child sex offenders,” that they at least “disclose the identity of all N bun members” to avoid another case like this.

“Please share the list of the 260,000 criminals in the N bun bang: where they live, where they work, and their age,” it pleads.

To say I’m pessimistic about this case is a great understatement. How can one not be when there is hardly any legal precedent for cyber-sex crimes? It’s heartbreaking that these victims are forced into life sentences of psychological trauma. Even if this petition or our best efforts can’t bring justice to this case, it’s imperative that Korea at least shows predators that they will not go unpunished.

Allies must band together in hopes of sending the message that perpetrators of sex crimes must be punished for their actions. I – and, frankly, many others – feel absolutely feeble, but it’s even more important to take whatever action is possible. Even if all one can do is sign a petition that will go to Korea’s president, that’s still one more voice speaking out for those who had theirs taken away.