[ASIAN STORY PROJECT] Digital sex crime in Asia: Nth room, the making of a monster [VIDEO]
Video by Lee Min-young, Kim Kang-min
This documentary film is supported by the Judith Neilson Institute's Asian Stories project, in collaboration with Hong Kong's South China Morning Post, Indonesia's Tempo magazine, the Philippine Center for Investigative Journalism, and Manila-based ABS-CBN.
In July, 2019, two college students who call themselves "Team Flame" first broke the story of the "Nth room," a massive digital sex crime case where perpetrators blackmailed women including underage girls into performing sexually explicit acts on camera, with thousands of users paying in cryptocurrency to watch.
What Team Flame started off ― an investigation into distribution channels of illicit, hidden-camera videos in the hope of submitting it to a journalism exhibition ― ended up revealing a nationwide scandal in Korea that horrified the public.
Interactions among those involved in the digital sex crime-ring first began on social media services such as Twitter before conversations were moved to Telegram ― an encrypted messaging app. All of the exploitative videos were then distributed by chat room operators on Telegram to paid-up members. The number of users of the Nth Room and the "Doctor's Room," where the sexually abusive content was uploaded, may have numbered anywhere between the tens of thousands to more than a quarter of a million.
Meanwhile, we're witnessing a similar phenomenon in other countries around the world ― sexual exploitation being transformed into a lucrative business ― with the advent of high-speed networks and sophisticated digital devices.
"There was also an incident in Hong Kong that was very similar to the Nth room case. We got a request from the authorities there asking us how the videos got taken down and deleted, so we shared everything we knew with them. There will be circumstances that are unique to each country, but the crime is fundamentally similar in nature," Seo Seung-hui, director of the Korea Cyber Sexual Violence Response Center, told The Korea Times.
Numerous Chinese-language chat rooms similar to the Nth room were also found on Telegram. "We've gained access to four of those chat rooms which are clearly abusive, and one of them has over 30,000 users, and there are thousands more in the other ones," Team Flame said.
"Videos being circulated in those chat rooms included sexually-exploitative videos from the Nth room as well as others that appeared to have been filmed in China. There were thousands, tens of thousands of illicit videos being shared and distributed."
To delve deeper into the evolving digital sex crime cases in Korea and across Asia, The Korea Times has been collaborating with four media organizations ― the South China Morning Post in Hong Kong, Tempo in Indonesia, and the Philippine Center for Investigative Journalism and ABS-CBN in the Philippines ― on a special investigation into this issue over the last seven months.
This hour-long documentary explains what happened in the Nth room chat rooms, how girls fell prey to the perpetrators, and how the digital world and social media platforms provide an optimal environment for online sex offenses to take place. We will also be looking into how similar cases are being seen in other Asian countries, and how ― and which ― social media platforms have become a central hub for criminals in Korea, China, Japan and other parts of Asia.
[Screenshots from the documentary film 'The Nth Room: The Making of a Monster]