Korean celebrities are publicly condemning the sexual exploitation of young girls in an online messenger service in South Korea. Last week, a man in his 20s named Cho was arrested for allegedly victimizing at least 74 people, including 16 minors. Known by his Telegram nickname “Doctor,” Cho is now facing charges related to sexual exploitation and assault on top of sharing content on Telegram since December 2018, reports the Korea Herald.
Korean authorities revealed that middle school girls are captured on film performing sexual acts and self-harm, with the girls’ names and addresses included. There are also instances of rape, according to local reports.
Over the weekend, the presidential website revealed that a petition calling for the disclosure of 260,000 users of the controversial Telegram chat rooms was filed with the presidential office.
“There is no doubt this crime against minors is appalling and repulsive, and should never recur. But this crime will recur in South Korea, if 260,000 customers face no penalties. There is no use in punishing the operators and suppliers only, not that they will be properly punished,” the petition reads.
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“Users who were in the Telegram chatroom are all sex offenders. … I must know. Please reveal the full identity of all the users so that if the state will not protect children from child sex offenders we can do so ourselves.”
Among the celebrities calling on the public to sign the petition include Girl’s Day’s Hyeri and Sojin, Baek Yerin, Moon Ga Young, VIXX’s Ravi, VAV’s Baron, KARD’s BM, ex-MOMOLAND’s Yeonwoo, Nam Bora, Kim Bomi, Hyosung, actress Han So Hee, Ha Yeon Soo, Simon D, ex-STELLAR’s Gayoung, Park Jimin and ex-INFINITE’s Hoya, Asian Junkie
The petition, which was filed upon Cho’s arrest on Friday, has gained over 1 million signatures by Sunday.
How the Story Erupted
The online exploitation was first reported in November by the Korean newspaper Hankyoreh. A more detailed report with screenshots of the chat rooms was published in early March by Kookmin Ilbo, sparking nationwide outrage.
For its report, Kookmin Ilbo monitored about 25,000 users across 30 chat rooms called the “nth rooms,” where customers reportedly pay up to 1.5 million Korean won ($1,200) for access.
In these “nth rooms” video clips extorted from underage victims are uploaded in real-time. Aside from the fee, interested parties must also upload their own sexual abuse content and share misogynistic comments to gain access to the exclusive rooms.
The report found that each of the eight nth rooms contained videos extorted by chat room operators from three to four different girls that they blackmailed.
Victims were mostly runaway teenagers who have previously engaged in prostitution or sexting in exchange for money. To begin their scheme, the chat room operators would contact the girls through their social media accounts with a promise of easy and high-paying modeling opportunities.
After being directed to a Telegram account, the victims are manipulated to provide their names, phone numbers, addresses, friend lists and photos of their bodies. This information will then be used later to blackmail them so they can be forced to engage in filmed sexual and often violent acts.
Cho allegedly ran three types of paid chat rooms: level 1 which charged between 200,000 won and 250,000 won ($160-$200) in cryptocurrency, level 2, which charged 700,000 won ($569) and level 3, which charged 1.5 million won ($1,200). After Cho’s arrest, police confiscated some 130 million won (more than $105,000) in cash at his home.
Aside from Cho, four of his alleged accomplices have been arrested and referred to the prosecution while nine more are under police investigation.