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  • Writer's pictureDurham Pro Bono Blog

Teenage Sex Slaves Stuck in the ‘Nth Room’ – South Korea’s Failed Criminal Justice System

Disclaimer: The views expressed are that of the individual author. All rights are reserved to the original authors of the materials consulted, which are identified in the footnotes below.


If there’s one thing March 2020 will be remembered for in South Korea, besides the ongoing pandemic which we’ve more or less adjusted to as the new normal by now, it would have to be the ‘Nth room’ case. For those not familiar with the facts of it, the so called ‘Nth room’ case is an atrocious sex crime consisting of 260,000 men paying to watch videos of blackmailed women (including multiple minors) being raped in encrypted Telegram chatrooms referred to as the ‘Nth room’.[1] These videos consisted of women with the Korean word for slave engraved on to their bodies through apparent knife burns as proof that these women were ‘conquered’ by the leaders of the chatroom, often being forced to say their own names out loud to show submission. Members of the Nth room paid ‘entrance fees’ ranging from $600 to $1200 in cryptocurrency and were given access to different ‘qualities’ of rape material depending on how much they paid. Further investigations also revealed that these women were even put up for apparent human trafficking in another secret chatroom where only the highest paying members were allowed into.


Image Source: Kim Hong-Ji/Reuters


The list of sickening facts goes on and on, but what startled me the most was that whilst I was no doubt greatly disturbed, this all felt like déjà vu – starting off with a very familiar sense of rage, followed by a dreadful sense of helplessness, and then gradually dissolving as a lingering sentiment of discomfort into the back of my mind as I grew numb. I say this with a heavy dose of self-hatred as I feel responsible to initiate change through action as a woman, but far too many times were those endeavours turned down by the society to no avail that it’s become a necessary precaution as an individual to (very selfishly) level one’s anger to keep going.


It is an undisputable fact that the South Korean criminal justice system is very forgiving when it comes to sexual offences, more often than not prioritising the human rights of perpetrators than protecting the victims. Existing laws will be construed in favour of the perpetrators with all sorts of defences being read into consideration whilst victims are constantly threatened with retaliation on minimal support. New cases in novel areas of law like digital sex crimes will be overlooked as there simply isn’t enough relevant law on it. The fact that voluntary intoxication was still considered a leading defence until a few years ago (which trend has now shifted towards self-proclaimed insanity and automatism these days) and that the average sentencing for ordinary rape is still 2.5 to 5 years[2] says a lot about how the current criminal justice system views sexual offences. The fact that having a clear record will significantly reduce one’s sentence and maybe even lead to acquittal even in the most serious offences like rape also reflects how much the court pities sex offenders and how the society legislates in favour of them. It is an accurate representation of who we have as legislators and reeks of privileged male gaze.


So I understand. I really shouldn’t, but I understand how this 24-year-old man was able to feel confident that he would be fine even when he was profiting from raping girls half his age. I understand where these 260,000 men (note that South Korea’s population is 51.6m) obtained the audacity to dare complain about the exorbitant prices of the material they ‘rightfully deserve’. The criminal justice system has failed to protect women and by dismissing sex offenders as simply rambunctious men created a prime conservatory to breed rape culture. The ‘Nth room’ case is just another offspring of this, and unless we fundamentally strike change in our legal frameworks that tolerate rape, there will always be more to come.


Sarah Jaewon Hwang

Section Editor

Asia


SOURCES

[1] Yoonjung Seo, ‘Dozens of young women in South Korea were allegedly forced into sexual slavery on an encrypted messaging app’ (CNN, 28 March 2020) <https://edition.cnn.com/2020/03/27/asia/south-korea-telegram-sex-rooms-intl-hnk/index.html> accessed 2 April 2020 [2] (Translated from South Korea’s Sentencing Commission report) Criteria on Sentencing Sexual Offences (Latest amendments enacted from June 2013) <https://sc.scourt.go.kr/sc/krsc/criterion/criterion_03/sex_01.jsp > accessed 2 April 2020


[3] (Translated from South Korea’s Sentencing Commission report) Criteria on Sentencing Sexual Offences (Latest amendments enacted from June 2013) <https://sc.scourt.go.kr/sc/krsc/criterion/criterion_03/sex_01.jsp > accessed 2 April 2020

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