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A report into an underage sex racket has revealed thousands of sex offenders paying with Bitcoin to access encrypted pay-to-view chat rooms via Telegram.
According to the Korean newspaper Kookmin Ilbo in March, 25,000 users across 30 chat rooms paid around 1.5 million Korean won ($1,200)—often in BTC—to access so-called 'nth rooms' where physical, mental and sexual abuse of extorted teens allegedly ensued.
Before access was granted, however, users needed to "prove" themselves on a gatekeeper chatroom. They did so by sharing their own sexual abuse content—supposedly to implicate themselves and confirm they weren't undercover officials. Users were additionally required to pay a hefty fee. Many reportedly used Bitcoin to hide their payment tracks.
Per the report, the victims were frequently runaway teenagers, who turned to prostitution to survive. Abusers coerced them by promising well-paid modelling or escorting jobs. Directed to a Telegram chat, the girl's names, addresses, intimate photos and contact information of friends and loved ones, were collected and subsequently used against them as blackmail.
South Korea's relationship with Bitcoin
This isn't South Korea's first sex abuse scandal—and it's certainly not the first to employ Bitcoin.
In October 2019, a darknet marketplace offering over 200,000 videos of lewd acts against children was shut down by a coalition of global law enforcement agencies. The site was said to have been started by Jong-Woo Son—a South Korean national currently serving an 18-month prison term for other sexual abuse charges. These images too were paid in Bitcoin.