Young students busted for online S&M ring

Posted on : 2007-02-12 15:40 KST Modified on : 2019-10-19 20:29 KST

Incident underscores need for more regulatory measures, parental education about cyber culture

The mother of a 13 year-old middle school girl, "K," was overcome with shock one day when she discovered her daughter was operating an online club about sadomasochism. The mother blamed herself for not having given her daughter the usual amount of attention, on account of the fact her husband had been ill.

However, the fact that South Korea is now an Internet and IT powerhouse means that an elementary school student can find pornographic material in about the amount of time it takes his or her parents to blink.

On Sunday, the Seoul police cyber crimes unit announced it had busted a group of seven elementary and middle school students between the ages of 8 and 13 who had been operating an online community about "perverted" sex, complete with bulletin boards filled with pictures and "how to" descriptions about sadomasochist methods for achieving sexual pleasure.

"We called in all the parents and found most of the children are from normal families," said a police official. "Both adults and children need 'Internet sex education.' "

The problem is that Korean society has only just begun to think about "digital sex education," or education about how to deal with sexual content that can be found on the Web.

Yun Gyeong-suk, a 41-year-old mother of a first grade elementary school student, says she recently discovered her son looking at "semi-nude" pictures on the Internet. "You need adult authorization to get into most sites, but I'm worried he can memorize my national registration number and use it to see just about anything."

"It's hard to know what's going on with students unless you talk to them one on one," said one elementary school teacher. "There are not programs designed to prevent students from accessing pornography, and currently the school does little more than send notes home to parents warning them of the dangers."

"We need sex education that takes their specific ages into account," said the teacher.

Korea's portal sites block access to adult content and have "prohibited" search words that only allow you to search for them after you have proven to the portal that you are an adult. There are holes in the system, though.

The elementary students who were found to have been operating the "violent" sex site managed to work around the devices intended to keep children protected. The children used their real names for months, even though they used their parents' resident registration numbers.

Lee Seung-jin of Daum Communication, which owns one of the country's largest portal sites, Daum (daum.net), says her company intends to increase its number of "online monitors" from 150 to 200, "but there are still difficulties in keeping up with everything." She notes that the search "physical punishment" (chaebeol) used to mean corporal punishment of a student by a teacher, but lately it has also come to refer to sadomasochism, making it hard to weed out the "bad" sites using search words alone.

Some say the government and service providers need to do more.

"Both the government and the industry have failed to pay enough attention to the negative influences of the Internet," said Kim Tae-dong of the National Youth Commission. "We need to create an umbrella group of all the parties with an interest in the Internet and work on the problem together."

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