CONTENT WARNING: rape, sexual assault
Earlier this year, the Nth room cybersex scandal shook the South Korean nation. With the aftermath of last year’s Burning Sun scandal still occurring at the court, the public was surprised to see the country embroiled in yet another cybersex scandal – but perhaps it was not that surprising considering South Korea’s reputation of being a highly patriarchal state. Pervasive misogyny and the lax punishment for perpetrators of crimes of this nature have enabled cybersex scandals to occur again and again in the modern age. The Nth room scandal is the latest one and it involves hundreds of female victims – many of them are minors – and the distribution of sexual content on the messaging app Telegram.
The Nth room scandal is essentially chat rooms on the Telegram app where women and young girls were degraded and forced to perform sexual acts, with content being distributed in the rooms by the perpetrators. Perpetrators lured victims in through social media by asking for their personal information under false premises and coercing them to take photos and graphic videos. Their personal information would then be used against them as blackmail. The shame factor, which is prevalent in East Asia, played a role in making sure victims complied with what the perpetrators wanted from them. They threatened to show the victims’ family members, allowing them to control and exploit them. The content was then distributed across a variety of chat rooms on Telegram. The scandal got its name because the chat rooms were named after their ordinal numerals, hence “Nth room.” In many cases, real-life sexual assault (including rape) was turned into content ready to be distributed for viewing pleasure. The content was also highly demeaning – victims were forced to bark like dogs or lie naked on the floor of a public men’s toilet. Until now, at least 103 victims have been identified, with 26 minors. The chat rooms had names such as “slave room,” “female child room,” and “violate your acquaintance room.” Around 260,000 users had access to 56 monitored chat rooms on Telegram.
South Korea is notorious for having lax punishments for such severe crimes and acts of human rights violations. To put it into perspective, drug use crimes receive heavier punishments than cybersex crimes. The primary perpetrators received relatively light sentences of just a few years in prison, considering the heavy weight of their crimes. Furthermore, thousands of people had been involved, but only around 220 people had been detained by the police. This has sparked public outcry, with over 5 million people signing a petition to disclose the identity of those involved. People urged the government to take stronger action against the perpetrators and members of the chat rooms. Several prolific K-pop stars also spoke out about this issue on their social media platforms, including Junho from 2PM, Baekhyun and Chanyeol from EXO, Hyeri from Girl’s Day, Eric Nam and more. Using their massive global fanbases, these celebrities were able to spread awareness of the issue and advocated for the perpetrators' identities to be exposed so they could receive the appropriate punishment. Following the scandal, South Korea’s Supreme Court vowed to make sentences harsher for digital sex crimes, which not only punish the perpetrators but could discourage anyone from enacting similar crimes in the future.
The Nth room scandal has highlighted the pervasive misogyny that still runs rampant in South Korea. This scandal is the latest in a string of scandals in the past decade that have had reverberations across the nation. In 2016, spy cam footage of women and real-time invitations to rape women emerged on the website Soranet, which was promptly shut down. However, similar websites displayed similar content soon after. In 2019, the Burning Sun scandal erupted and caused several chart-topping K-pop artists to leave the industry because of cybersex crimes, in which explicit content of women were shared on KakaoTalk, South Korea’s most popular instant messaging app. In a country where lookism is common, women often fall victim to all kinds of cybersex crimes. The education system has received backlash for being sexist and lacking gender sensitivity. Furthermore, the easy accessibility and usage of the Internet makes it easier for women to be taken advantage of. South Korea has a long way to go before cybersex crimes become less common.
Following the spy cam footage and Burning Sun scandals, the Nth room scandal demonstrates how South Korean women are continuously victimized in a highly misogynistic society, where the perpetrators receive lax punishments. However, as cybersex crimes still frequently occurr, the public is becoming more vocal about their backlash and acknowledging that change is needed. Even though the government is taking steps in the right direction, with misogyny persisting in society, cybersex crimes will continue to thrive in South Korea.