Content warning: the article below contains description of sexual torture, including to minors.

Just when you thought 2020 couldn’t get any worse, news about the Nth room surfaces on the Internet, once again proving that humans are truly disgusting creatures. The Nth room is a mass digital sex abuse case happening in South Korea. This abuse is carried out through the messaging application Telegram, which is known for its cyber security and ability to encode all contents of conversation. This means that these conversations are untraceable to anyone outside the conversation, thus ensuring privacy for its users.

While these security measures were created with good intentions in mind, Baksa (meaning “doctor” in Korean) has successfully exploited this safety mechanic by using it to sell videos of sexual abuse. He created numerous closed chat rooms with different tiers and prices ranging from ₩100,000 to ₩1,500,000, hence the name Nth room. These different tiers show different types of content, meaning higher paying patrons can request and view more extreme acts of sexual abuse. The number of patrons who visit the Nth rooms increase everyday, and currently there is an estimate of at least 260,000 members in these rooms.

In Kim Hyun-jung‘s interview with one of the Nth room victims, it was revealed that females — as young as 11 years old — are baited into becoming “slaves” by applying for seemingly innocent job offers with higher-than-average pay. The operators who create such offers then ask for personal information such as personal identification number, address, bank account number etc. — information that one would usually provide when applying for a job.

This information is then used against these girls, with the abusers threatening to leak the gathered information unless the girls complied to their orders. Such orders include taking videos of themselves undressing and masturbating, as well as using various objects for sexual acts. These videos are then used as more material to threaten the girls with, and the cycle of blackmail only grows as the sexual acts become more violent, i.e. having the word “slave” carved onto one’s body, cutting off a nipple, or putting sharp objects into the vagina.

“At first, he only asked for a picture of my body, but after a few hours, he asked if I could send one that included my face. I said that it was too much for me to do that, and I could do it after I got paid. But he said ‘I bought you a present, can’t you just do that?’ His wording was a bit coercive. He said ‘I even got you a present, you shouldn’t be like this.’”

Victim of the Nth room who was Kim Hyun-jung’s interviewee

A refusal to comply does not just include private information getting leaked, for the girl’s information is leaked to the Nth room’s patrons, inciting them to go to her school, workplace or even her home. These male patrons will organise a gang-rape and record themselves raping the girl and sending it back to the leader of the group. These acts of gang-rape not only serve as a punishment for refusal, but also a warning to other girls. They are also a way to earn more money because more lucrative pornographic material is more expensive.

The main reason as to why this case has blown up all over social media is due to the lack of investigation from the Korean police force. A man who had reported the crime soon came to the realisation that the police force does not do anything, thus creating a safe environment for criminals to do crime without getting arrested. The same man then started contributing to the growth of these Nth rooms, knowing that it was unlikely for him to be arrested. Furthermore, according to the law,  the sentence for obtaining and spreading child pornography is only a one year jail sentence. The lack of severity in the punishment does not serve as a deterrence, meaning that more women are getting roped into these rooms with every passing day.

In February 2020, an investigative journalism program on SBS researched on these Nth rooms and aired their findings. However, the program was faced with a threat from one of the perpetrators, saying that they will force one their “slaves” in the Nth room to kill herself if the program continued to air. Shortly after, the program was cancelled.

As of 19 March 2020, the main administrator Baksa has been arrested and had his identity revealed. He is known as Cho Joo-bin to the public, a 25-year-old graduate from Inha Technical College. He was a hardworking student with good grades, and while he rarely got along with his peers, he was never involved in any trouble related to sexual assault. In the days following his arrest, Cho Joo-bin revealed that some female celebrities were victims of the Nth room, along with the fact that some male celebrities and athletes have participated in viewing and requesting content in these rooms.

Currently, the police has arrested 128 suspects, with 18 of them in confinement. Since then, there has been a petition going around, demanding the police to reveal the identities of the suspects, as well as the estimated 260,000 members in the chatroom, which you can sign here.

This case could not have surfaced at the worst time possible. With every country dedicating majority of their resources in ensuring the citizens’ safety from the Coronavirus, as well as maintaining political and economic stability, news of the Nth room has not been reported in both local and international media outlets aside from social media and smaller news sites. Furthermore, as Telegram is not a Korean application and has servers in other countries, it is difficult for the Korean police force to carry out a thorough investigation. 

Despite the arrest of Baksa, the Nth room continues to grow with each passing day, indicating that more women are getting roped into this world of slavery and abuse. There is no way to put an end to these Nth rooms if not done now, especially since we now live in a world where news passes by us in a flash. A month from now, this case would be forgotten by the public, the investigations will cease, and the Nth room continues to thrive. While it is important to keep up with current updates on the Coronavirus, and ensuring the mass public’s safety, it is also our responsibility to continue pushing mainstream media outlets to cover this case.

By keeping this topic fresh on social media, there will be no excuse for the Korean police force to slack off, and it increases the chances of the Nth room victims to finally be free.

(4W, YouTube [1] [2] [3], Insight [1] [2], Naver, SBS, Instiz, The Korea Times, The Qoo; Images via Instiz, SBS.)