A sex-crime scandal that’s shocked South Korea is now making waves in neighboring China.
The incident in Korea revolves around a number of paid chat rooms on encrypted messaging app Telegram known as “nth rooms.” The primary suspect, a 24-year-old male surnamed Cho, allegedly operated the chat rooms and lured women, some underage, through fake job ads to persuade them to send him sexual photos of themselves. Cho would later use the photos to blackmail the women, asking them to shoot porn videos, including ones depicting violent and gruesome acts. President Moon Jae-in has called for a full police investigation into the members of the chat rooms, and over 2 million people have signed an online petition asking authorities to reveal the identities of all the users of the chat rooms.
Seeing similar incidents of sexual exploitation in China, women there are now voicing out against these acts. On Weibo, China’s largest social network, females are advocating (link in Chinese) for the publication of identities of registered users on websites and apps such as 91Porn, the most popular porn site in China. Like most other Chinese porn sites, the server of 91Porn is hosted overseas and the site itself is banned in China where porn is illegal, though many use virtual private networks to access such material.
Although 91Porn has said in its users’ terms (link in Chinese) that it has “zero tolerance” for any illegal content including child pornography, rape, and torture, female advocates say their purpose is not to prohibit all porn sites, but to give a warning to those who shoot voyeuristic videos of women and to draw more public scrutiny against them.
Some of the women on Weibo cited a 91Porn user (link in Chinese) who was sentenced to 11 years in prison in 2018 after he was found to have sold around 100 spy-cam pornographic videos involving himself and several other women to the website, saying this proves the site’s loose scrutiny of its users.
“Let me tell you what a girl needs to be afraid of in her whole life… Spy cams, unfair competition, and the requirement for her to be innocent, submissive, and not to compete with males,” said a Weibo user under the hashtag #Chinese females beg for the revelation of identities of 91Porn users#, citing lines from a popular and now-censored Chinese feminist song.
Many of the female Weibo users also cited the large-scale “my life is not your porn” protests against spy cams that have been taking place in Korea since 2018. Others referenced the hashtag #Chinawakeup, which was used last year on Twitter in response to the circulation of drug-rape videos involving Chinese women. “What happened to the Korean women also happened to us. To voice out for them equals voicing out for ourselves. Reject video voyeurism, reject China’s nth room,” wrote a user (link in Chinese).
The online campaign comes against a growing consciousness in China in recent years of gender issues, even as the #MeToo movement itself has suffered serious setbacks in the country’s stifled environment for civil society. Women in China have raised their voices regarding issues such as sexual harassment in universities and a widening pay gap between men and women, for example, but key female activists have also been detained and conservative stereotypes of women still dominate in mainstream discourse.