|▲ Image of a mentally unstable girl (Source: Freepik)|
On April 16, a teenage girl committed suicide by jumping off the top of a building in Gangnam- gu, Seoul, while live- streaming her suicide. It turned out that the girl had planned her suicide with a 27- year- old man, whom she met on the “Depression Gallery,” one of the bulletin boards of the online community, “DC Inside.” The man first posted a message on the “Depression Gallery,” saying, "I'm looking for someone to commit mass suicide." According to the man’s blog post after the incident, he met the girl at Gangnam Station on the day of the suicide case, but the girl went into the building alone where the incident occurred. The man changed his mind about committing suicide and left the area. The man, who was with the girl until shortly before the incident, is currently charged with abetting suicide in violation of the Suicide Prevention Act. The case has brought the crime to light, specifically targeting users of the “Depression Gallery,” on “DC Inside.” Until now, crimes such as drug abuse, online sexual harassment, and sexual exploitation of minors have occurred frequently in the “Depression Gallery.” Therefore, the police are considering the possibility of a sexual crime being involved in the case of the teenage girl's suicide.
The online community, “DC Inside,” is the No.1 community in Korea with a large number of users. The problem is that there are numerous so- called, "depression hunters," who have joined the "Depression Gallery," a space where not only melancholics but also mentally unstable people can join the online community to communicate freely. Since the "depression hunters" usually try to abuse and take advantage of the emotional anxiety of depressed people to have sex, attempts of sexual exploitation and prostitution have occurred frequently over the past few years. Most of the victims were minors, and they have been targets for the purpose of “sexual grooming.” The term, “sexual grooming" means that the assailant commits a sexual crime after exerting psychological control over the victim. Users of the online community who come for comfort, are instead being targeted for sexual crimes due to their vulnerability.
In addition to the "Depression Gallery," similar crimes have also been found on Twitter. In these online communities, "abetting" and “inducing" are pointed out as problems. It means that people who seek out suicide- related online communities for psychological help may be lured in by the atmosphere that encourages them to consider suicide. In fact, it is easy to find jokes, ridicule, and slander against minors who are trying to seek counseling in online communities. According to the 2018 Suicide Survey released by the College of Medicine of Seoul National University in 2019, 17.2% of 134 suicide attempters said, "online websites influenced the choice of committing suicide." This shows the growing influence of online communities on people. Teenagers in the digital age will increasingly be exposed to online crimes in the future. Currently, in the era of the Fourth Industrial Revolution, it has become indiscriminately easy for criminals to communicate with isolated minors online, which can lead to being a part of a much larger criminal web of crime.
On the one hand, it has been suggested that the “sexual grooming,” is widespread due to light penalties for assailants. In some cases, assailants of sexual grooming have been sentenced to three to four years in prison or released on probation. Passive punishment by the courts has increased crime. The response of the civil authority has also been insufficient. The police investigating the case of the teenage girl's suicide requested that the “Depression Gallery” should be blocked to prevent further damages, but the Korea Communications Standards Commission deferred the decision, citing the need for legal advice and additional identification of illegal posts. The police also asked the DC Inside’s operator to shut down the gallery, but he refused on grounds of "freedom of expression" and "protecting users' copyrights.”
To avoid the further concomitance of crimes as soon as possible, it is necessary to create a society that can protect people who are struggling with depression and provide legal protection for online communities that are highly vulnerable to crime. The experts say, "Crimes committed in the ‘Depression Gallery,’ especially sexual crimes against minors, are premeditated crimes targeting the vulnerable. As a result, severe punishments are required." There should be a stern crackdown on suicide- related online communities, with practical penalties for abetting suicide.
By Park Jeong-hyeon, reporter email@example.com
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