Hushed voices frantically look for ways to get out of trouble
“Help me please.”
“I feel so awful.”
“Will I be able to make it?”
“Everything is falling apart.”
“When will this be over?”
The titles of the posts on a private community message board read like desperate cries for help. The internet cafe, as it is called in Korean, was founded in 2010 and has some 2,200 members, most of whom turn to the community to ask for advice from fellow anonymous users on how to deal with the sex crimes that they have committed and are being charged for.
Although there are no exact statistics that keep track of the number of such cafes, there are nearly hundreds of such message boards that come up if you search for “sex crimes” or “sex consultations” on portal sites such as Naver and DaumKakao. While most of these cafes have a small number of members, some of the biggest cafes have up to 5,000 people - exclusively men - on their roster. These cafes are strictly there for those who committed crimes, not for those who have suffered from them.
While victims of sexual crimes have started to voice their experiences thanks to the recent Me Too movement, hoping to find consolation and to see their aggressors put to justice, it turns out that those who have committed the crimes are searching for ways to go out of the penalties and punishments that come their way.
Perpetrators come together on the internet cafes to share tips on “fighting their way through their hardships,” and share the names of books and law firms that will provide information on ways to evade justice or help them get their sentences reduced to a bare minimum.
A community of wrongdoers
One internet cafe hosted on portal site Naver is called Puljago meaning “Let’s talk about this.” The community’s 2,000 members are here for one reason: To ask for advice on how to deal with the sex crimes they have committed.
The cafe is only open to male users, who must write down their own accounts of sex crimes in the “Personal Stories” section in order to get on the ranking system. Only after users get highly ranked are they able to post in other sections and ask for legal advice from lawyers who often log on to the cafe to give brief consultations to the users for free. But even in the “Personal Stories” section, members actively give sincere advice that they’ve learned through experience.
After explaining how he was caught, that he had immediately appointed a lawyer and prepared documents such as four letters of apology and a certificate of attendance to sex education programs, the post continued, asking for advice on what else he could do to have the prosecutor suspend his indictment and avoid court. According to the post, his lawyer advised him to get a petition from his close acquaintances, but he couldn’t afford to tell anyone he knew, so he decided to go to a psychiatrist instead, also on the lawyer’s advice.
“I’m planning on going to psychiatrist to get a diagnosis. How much will it cost me, and will it be on my medical records if I do so? And what should I tell them when I go?” asks the post.
Instead of reproaching the obvious legal infractions he would be making, other users left their insights and personal experiences of how they got away from previous incidents. While some gave simple suggestions, such as “A 12-year-old is categorized as a child, and the punishment is stronger than that for teenagers. You have to get a settlement,” other people gave very long and detailed explanations of how he could get away without much punishment.
“The fact that it was 10 o’clock at night is to your advantage. You have to argue that you didn’t know that [the victim] was a 12-year-old child, because it was 10:30 p.m. at night. But this is up to the lawyer to get it through [to the judge]. What you have to do is settle with the parents.” The advice continued, “You have to keep consistent with your argument that you didn’t know she was a child. Don’t worry too much.”
As of April 1, there are over 5,000 posts containing all sorts of confessions in the cafe, ranging from sexual harassment to groping, rape, prostitution, taking pictures of women in the street because “they were too pretty,” sending videos of themselves masturbating to women on the internet, grabbing co-worker’s breasts in a taxi and exposing their penis to women in the streets.
With every post, there are comments by others giving tips on how to handle different situations. Writing a letter of apology, getting someone to file a petition, appointing a lawyer, methods of getting a settlement with the victim, files that could work to their advantage, what to do and what not to do while they’re waiting for a hearing are all shared on the cafe, ready at the click of a mouse.
Though the internet cafes offer detailed tips shared by those who have first-hand experience, there is information that can only be obtained from legal professionals which may seem inaccessible, but are in fact quite readily available to anyone willing to search.
Typing “sex crime consultation” into a search engine brings up a list of numbers people can call, such as the number for Korea Sexual Violence Relief Center or the Women’s Human Rights Institute of Korea. Below the non-profit organizations are law firms that specialize in sex crimes, and clicking on the first one leads people to the firm’s website, on which it boasts multiple “successful cases” of its lawyers reducing the sentences of sex criminals.
“The client had exposed his genitals to the female victim while in a bus, then pushed himself onto her while exposing himself. He was arrested at the scene,” reads the post. “The client was in danger of losing his job because of this case, and it would also have been difficult for him to get another job due to his age. If that had been the case, then he would not have been able to take care of his children, and so he desperately wanted to not be indicted.”
The introduction of the case is then followed by how the lawyers at the firm had worked to reduce his sentence, such as “telling the client what he should say to prosecution during questioning to come across as ‘sincere’ and ‘working hard to get a settlement with the victim.’” According to the post, the lawyers had “swiftly end the case without trial,” due to their efforts.
On the firm’s website, there are some 1,600 examples of successful cases, most of which deal with sex crimes such as sexual harassment or prostitution. There are over 100 reviews by clients, who express their gratitude saying, “I would have just drank my days away as a sex criminal if it had not been for you.”
Other law firms post similar cases in which they managed to reduce the sentences of their clients to bare minimums.
For those who do not have the time or the money to find themselves a lawyer, there’s even a book that contains all the details a suspect may need in case they get arrested for sexual abuse. There’s a book with a title that translates to “Sex Crime Cases: Response Strategies from Police Questioning to Settlement and Trial,” which contains all of the details someone may need from the very beginning to the end of a sex crime case, as the name suggests.
The book includes clear and concise details on how much to pay victims according to different crimes, what to say and what not to say to the victim on the phone, the reason why one should say that they “don’t remember” during questioning and what kinds of files to submit to the court to prove that you were a good person at heart, among many other things.
“This book promises you just one thing,” reads the preface. “It gives you the response strategies that someone in a desperate situation needs to take and the actions that will get positive results.”
But according to the author surnamed Park, who’s a lawyer that has been working for 13 years, the book wasn’t created in order to help people cover up their crimes, but to equip them with the legal knowledge to defend themselves.
“This book isn’t written just for the suspects,” explained Park to the Korea JoongAng Daily. “For instance, there was a sex crime victim who told me that she was able to understand the perpetrator’s perspective because she read the book. This book is here to help people make the right choices, instead of doing or saying something wrong to get themselves in more trouble.” There is content for victims in the book as well, on two of the 200 pages.
It’s been almost half a year since 32-year-old Kim Ji-young (alias) found out that her ex-boyfriend had been posing as her and posting her personal information and photos on the internet, as if she was looking for someone to “chat and meet.” Although she tried to report him to the police as early on as December last year, she just managed to file an official case a few days ago. It took her three months to gather all of her evidence through the difficult experience and she is still waking up at night in tears because of nightmares. No words can properly describe the emotions that victims like Kim would feel if they saw the people that put them into so much pain were trying so hard to run away from their punishments.
Although the idea of sharing tips on how to evade the law may seem illegitimate, it’s technically legal and not punishable in any way, according to the Ministry of Justice. “If they share tips on how to get their sentences reduced in illegal ways, then that would be a problem. But if that’s not the case, then it’s hard to say that there’s a problem with these [internet cafes] sharing tips. If we were to force them to stop, then that could become a problem,” said an official from the justice ministry.
“But most of the things that those people share don’t actually have much effect on the gravity of the sentence. The judge makes their decision based on the nature of the crime and the damage inflicted on the victim. So the files, like letters of apology, petitions or certificate of donations, don’t really have much impact. The [criminals] may think that they got away with less sentences because of them, but in reality, that’s not what the judges look for.”
According to the Korean National Police Agency, a total of 32,765 sex crime cases were reported in 2017, the highest in five years, which is a 12 percent increase compared to the 24,835 cases reported in 2013. Although 96.3 percent of the criminals were arrested last year, it doesn’t mean that they were all punished to the fullest extent of the law.
The “2017 Crime Analysis” report published by the Supreme Prosecutors’ Office, revealed that only 44.8 percent of sex criminals get prosecuted, while 51.6 percent don’t - meaning that even if a sex criminal does get caught, only about half of them go to court, while the other half are released by prosecutors. The average prosecution rate of other crimes is 65.9 percent, twice as higher than those who do not get prosecuted, 30.1 percent. Those who do get arrested and prosecuted make their way to these cafes, looking for ways to reduce their punishments.
“It’s natural that the aggressors make all sorts of efforts to defend themselves and try to reduce their sentences,” said lawyer Kim Hyun-ah. “But their efforts seldom carry sincere apologies towards the victims, since most of their measures are technical and formal methods to get lighter punishments. It’s questionable whether they should be considered as mitigating circumstances.”
To properly protect the rights of the victims and get the criminals to pay the just price for their deeds, lawyer Kim says that current laws must be changed.
“The law must be changed in a way that the sex criminals get rightly punished and the victims are properly protected,” said Kim. “The law needs to be more thorough, but the utmost importance lies within the police and the prosecutors’ office so that they become aware of the gravity of sex crimes. They must be investigated in more detail, and the criminals must be strictly punished, not lightly. A light punishment for the criminals will not have any preventative effects for the public.”
BY YOON SO-YEON