“Nth Room” Case: the Evolution of Digital Sex Crimes
Recently, “Nth Room”
case rose to the surface. The Nth Room case is a sexual criminal case which targeted
teenagers and females, involving spreading and selling of sexually exploitative
videos on a large scale via an app called Telegram, from 2018 to 2020 in South
Korea. The details of the crime are so sadistic that they aroused many
people’s resentment and alerted the society of the incompetent system that
failed to prevent such crimes. Nth room case shows the incapability of legal
systems in preventing digital sex crimes while their patterns are evolving. The
Sogang Herald explores what was lacking in response to the crimes, points
out the flaws in government measures, and finds ways to further improve them.
Summary of Nth Room Case
Nth room was reportedly operated for the first time in 2018 by an individual whose online ID is “GodGod”, and a copycat crime known as the “Doctor’s Room” has been operated since July, 2019. The operators of these online chat rooms forced hundreds of women to record sexually exploitative videos, some of which committing rape. Soon after the appearance of Nth room, millions of rooms with similar criminal method were created. Those cases have been revealed to the general public since March, 2020 and aroused public resentment. A strong public opinion was formed, with an urge to release the identities of sexual offenders through the national petitions to the Blue House. Accepting the demands of people, the police released the identities of Cho Joo-bin, nicknamed “Doctor” with his confederates who operated “Doctor’s room” and Moon Hyeong-wook, nicknamed “GodGod” who operated Nth room.
of May 15, the police arrested 536 people and imprisoned 77 people involved in
541 cases of the
relevant digital sex crimes. The investigation of major suspects is
reaching a peak, yet that of the holders of
sexually exploitative videos is slow. Given that the Seoul Metropolitan
Police Agency has already captured the 15,000 online IDs of individuals involved in ‘Doctor’s room’, 536 is considered
a small number. The agency said it takes a lot of time because the police
cannot receive cooperation from Telegram based on overseas servers.
The Change of Patterns in Digital Sex Crime
The patterns in digital sex crimes have changed in four aspects. First of all, the range of digital sex crimes has been diversified. The existing measures have only targeted the crimes involving the distribution of illegally filmed videos by using modified cameras in public restrooms or other places. However, recent cases are showing an aspect of the criminals threatening and forcing the victims to film the video themselves. Also, a room for insulting acquaintances was made where the offenders synthesized the photos of their acquaintances with nude photos to be distributed. Such a method of crimes appeared with the technological development of Deepfakes. In addition, the crimes have targeted specific groups of people, such as women running deviant online accounts in SNS or women seeking a highly paid part-time job like dating part-time job or modelling. By threatening them with their personal information or naked photos, the criminals could persistently exploit specific individuals, which ended up giving extensive damage to the victims. In another aspect, the offenders involved in “Doctor’s Room” divided the roles and earned criminal proceeds through virtual currency. Furthermore, the offenders used Telegram, which is a closed platform with tight security, making detection and investigation difficult. Considering these changes of pattern, the method of digital sex crime has been getting increasingly sophisticated, but the responses of the government were insufficient.
Government’s Countermeasures After Nth Room Case
Recognizing the gap between evolving criminal methods and the system being incapable of keeping up with them, the government established comprehensive reform to its measures. All countermeasures are necessary, but the most important actions will be introduced in the aspect of evolving criminal patterns. First of all, the government broadened the range of digital sex crime to eliminate the blind spot of punishments. For now, digital sexual crime materials include not only illegal videos by using modified cameras, but also synthesized sexual photos, pornography exploiting a child or teenager, and others that are distributed without the agreement of the person in them.
In order to ensure the protection of children and juveniles, the penalty for purchasing sexually exploitative materials of children and juveniles is newly established and those purchasing them even without possessing them would be penalized. Thanks to the law, people who said they have only seen it in the chat room can also be punished. Additionally, it raised the age of negligent rape from under 13 to 16 years of age. The negligent rape is the clause that punishes the people who had sex with children under 13 years of age, regardless of whether the child agrees or not. Previously, there was a gap in protecting teenagers aged 13 or older.
In addition, the Supreme Court decided to establish sentencing guidelines for digital sex crimes gathering public opinion. Meanwhile, despite increasing the level of legal sentence, the actual application criteria were imperfect, resulting in a lower sentence to the serious crimes. In fact, Son Jung-woo, who operated Welcome To Video (W2V) in Dark Web, was also sentenced to only one and a half years in prison in 2018. Noticing the gravity of digital sex crimes, the Sentencing Guidelines Council is going to raise the maximum penalty up to 13 years in prison for cases involving production of pornographic materials for children and adolescents.
It is important to prevent blind spots and raise the level of punishment, but with the lack of investigative abilities, the punitive laws would be useless. The government is going to introduce an undercover operation in the investigation of digital sexual crimes, considering the fact that it is hard to detect them in closed platforms such as Telegram. Through this introduction, it is expected that the crimes will be exposed at an early stage. Also, the government introduces a report reward system in order to encourage people to report digital sex crimes when they find them.
Protection of victims after the incident is also very important. Due to the nature of digital sex crimes, there is a possibility that the videos of victims would become distributed additionally and their personal information would be leaked, causing secondary damage. In response, the government will provide a 24-hour one-stop support system that tracks and deletes distributed videos and helps victims receive a psychic consultation.
Controversies About Effectiveness of the Governments’ Countermeasures
When sexual exploitation crimes occur on platform services, the platform with the vulnerable service also cannot be free from holding responsibility. Therefore, the National Assembly passed a bill that would strengthen Internet operators' responsibilities. Looking into the details, the act made it mandatory for all Internet operators to delete digital sexual crime materials soon after finding them and to take technical measures such as filtering. It also placed an outward regulation that makes overseas Internet service providers designate a domestic agent so that the agent makes efforts to prevent digital sex crime. However, Korea Internet Corporations Association (KICA) is criticizing the act, claiming it has little effectiveness. So, The Sogang Herald sees if the basis of the argument of the association is valid.
Primarily, KICA argues that the act violates the basic rights of communicative privacy because the act compels Internet service providers to check the conversation of individuals to identify sex crimes on the platform. However, this argument is wrong. According to the Korea Communications Commission, the target that providers should monitor on their own is Internet communities or chat rooms accessible to the public through URLs such as the Kakaotalk open chat room. Only when the report about sexual criminal materials is received, the provider is allowed to invade the private chat rooms.
Next, KICA claims that the act has a limitation in exerting the coercion to overseas platforms. Actually, this is true because no government knows the exact location of the head office of Telegram and the server used in it. As a result, no government can hold Telegram accountable for digital crimes and execute the penalty. This is a fatal limitation, considering the fact that large-scale digital sex crime cases have been based on overseas platforms such as Dark Web and Telegram.
Then what can we do? International cooperation is essential. The government should discuss countermeasures with related international organizations and countries all over the world. Although it is impossible to execute a legal compelling power, self-regulating systems should be activated in Telegram. According to the interview of Datface channel on YouTube with a private organization called Reset, the standard of the report in Telegram was not clear and the standard of getting rid of rooms was ambiguous. In addition, Telegram has not given feedback after the report, so the public could not know how the report was dealt. Through international cooperation, the governments should require Telegram to establish the systems to block additional distribution after reporting and to ensure the stage of investigation of offenders.
It is desirable that the government established various advanced measures while noticing the changes in criminal methods and increased gravity of the digital sexual crimes. The matter is how to carry out the measures from now on. Moreover, the problems about how to regulate closed overseas platforms such as Telegram still exist. Nth room case has not ended. Similar incidents continue to take place, and the victims continue to suffer from them. Therefore, long-term and meticulous countermeasures should be taken, and the government should continue to complement the problems which have risen in that process. In addition, Sogangers also should pay attention to the issues about the exploitation of sex online and offline so that we continue to raise our voice to stop further tragedies.
By Choi Ye-song (Cub Reporter)
 일탈계: The account in which the users in their teens and twenties display their naked bodies in SNS to express sexual desire.
 양형기준: The standard which the judge can refer to when sentencing penalty. The judge cand decide to increase or reduce the amount of the penalty using his or her own discretion when there is suitable reason, so the Supreme Court sets sentencing guidelines to prevent arbitrary decision of the judge.
 The world's largest child pornography website.