[Reporter’s notebook] The women behind the scenes of the Kedo Out movement

Posted on : 2020-09-12 18:07 KST Modified on : 2020-09-12 18:07 KST
A civic group formed in response to what it sees as lax punishment of child pornography
Kedo Out’s digital billboard ad in New York’s Times Square. (provided by Kedo Out)
Kedo Out’s digital billboard ad in New York’s Times Square. (provided by Kedo Out)

“The operator of the world’s largest child porn website made US$4 million and was sentenced to only 18 months in jail in South Korea. Please help find justice for child porn victims.”

The message was displayed in white text on a red background on a digital billboard in Times Square, New York City, on Sept. 1. The advertisement is talking about 24-year-old Son Jong-woo, the administrator of Welcome to Video. Son’s website, the world’s largest child pornography website, hosted 220,000 files. How did an ad calling for tough punishment of Son, a South Korean national, come to be displayed in the middle of New York City?

With anger about Welcome to Video spreading around the world, a group of Korean women called “Kedo Out” ran this ad in Times Square. Kedo Out uses the Twitter account @Kedophile to raise awareness about the reality of sexual crimes.

The group’s ad was mentioned by Kwon Chil-seung, a lawmaker with South Korea’s Democratic Party, during a confirmation hearing for Lee Heung-gu, a nominee for South Korea’s Supreme Court. Kwon asked Lee whether he was aware of the public anger over the court’s ruling about Son.

Kedo Out was set up after the Seoul High Court refused to allow Son’s extradition to the US on July 6. The court’s ruling eliminated an opportunity for Son to be severely punished in the US. After Son was released from custody and allowed to return to society, 12 angry women came together under the name Kedo Out. “Kedo” is short for “kedophile,” a term coined by the group that combines “K,” for Korea, with “pedophile.” The women, who don’t even know each other’s names, faces, or ages, joined together with the single goal of correcting Korea’s tendency to go easy on sex crimes.

“Rather than stamping out sex crimes against children, South Korea allows a distributor of child porn to remain at liberty. We need global interest and solidarity [against child pornography],” the group said, when explaining why they’d run the ad.

Fundraiser reached its goal within just 2 hours

The fundraiser for the ad, which the group launched immediately after its formation, quickly got results. The group reached its first fundraising goal in just two hours on July 15 and its second goal of 20 million won (US$16,380) within just five hours of launching a fundraiser on its Tumbler page on the afternoon of Aug. 20. During the two weeks of the fundraiser, the group raised a total of 90.9 million won (US$76,494), four times its financial goal. 4,686 people donated money and sent messages of support such as “We’re here in solidarity” and “I’m sending support for my daughter’s sake.”

Kedo Out did face a few obstacles before the ad could go live. Several ad agencies that they contacted refused to run the ad, citing the sensitive nature of the content. After tweaking the message several times, Kedo Out managed to line up a spot on two digital billboards at Times Square. While the repeated rejections were draining, the members of Kedo Out were determined not to give up.

“Even before Son Jong-woo, Korean judges have continued giving sex offenders a slap on the wrist without feeling the slightest shame. Our sincere desire was to put those judges under the global spotlight to shame them and make them change their rulings,” said Arlene, an activist with Kedo Out.

While Kedo Out was founded to place the ad, the group members plan to continue their activism. They’ve sent information about Son’s crimes and the lenient punishment he received to foreign media including CNN and the Wall Street Journal so that their outrage can be shared by people in other countries. The group has also posted an English-language explanation of the Welcome to Video incident on its official website to make people around the world aware of the severity of child molestation in Korea.

On Sept. 1, the day when the advertisements ran, the group sent a barrage of text messages to members of the Legislation and Judiciary Committee at South Korea’s National Assembly, calling for the passage of an amendment of the Extradition Act, also known as the Son Jong-woo Act. The amendment would make it possible to appeal the decision of judges that review extradition appeals; under the current system, those judges’ decision is final. The purpose of the amendment is to revisit the question of whether Son should be extradited to the US.

A petition to put the site’s members on trial

Son was released from custody after spending just one year and six months behind bars, and more than half of the paying members on the website weren’t even put on trial. A petition was filed to the Blue House’s website asking for those users to be investigated once more.

So what is Kedo Out’s next goal? “The ads we ran are the beginning of our fight to rewrite the judgment against Son Jong-woo and Welcome to Video. The perpetrators need to receive a just punishment. We hope that interest in our ads will cause their punishment to be watched more closely,” a group spokesperson said.

By Oh Yeon-seo, staff reporter

Please direct comments or questions to [english@hani.co.kr]

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