In July 2020, the South Korean man responsible for operating “Welcome to Video” — one of the world’s largest child sexual abuse material (often referred to as “child pornography”) websites — appeared to escape the full extent of justice after the Seoul High Court denied his extradition request to the United States.
Such a rejection is outside the norm for South Korea as — according to Kim Nayoung, a representative of the national Women’s Party of Korea — only 5 out of 55 total requests for extradition between the two countries have been rejected since 2004.
The move to deny Son Jong-woo’s extradition comes at a critical time in the anti-sexual exploitation field, as new developments concerning Jeffrey Epstein’s own untimely death and the arrest of his accomplice Ghislaine Maxwell also broke around the same time. While the cases of Epstein and Son Jong-woo are different in country, time, and name, the intentions and results—the sex trafficking and abuse of countless named and unnamed women and girls—are the same.
The Horrific Abuses Overseen by Son Jong-woo via “Welcome to Video”
Son Jong-woo was originally arrested back in March 2018 when the U.S. Department of Justice traced the exchange of bitcoin cryptocurrency on Son’s site “Welcome to Video” which was a dark web landing place where more than 250,000 videos of minor children being sexually abused were uploaded and sold to over 1.28 million users. The site was run by Son for three years. Law enforcement from across the globe worked together to rescue at least 23 underage victims from the US, UK, and Spain and over 300 individuals were arrested for being users.
Many activists, including the Women’s Party of Korea, were extremely disappointed in the rejection of the extradition request because they believe it means Son will escape being faced with a stronger sentence in a foreign country like the United States where child pornography and sex crime sentences are considered more strict.
While the Seoul High Court claims their decision will allow them to continue the criminal investigation, the decision is widely regarded as a way to avoid further repercussions for Son who only served an 18-month sentence in South Korea before being released in July 2020.With justice denied in the case of Son Jong-woo, a man who oversaw the sale of 250K+ child sexual abuse videos, one is left wondering: when will sexual exploitation be taken seriously and justice served accordingly? Click To Tweet
South Korea’s Sordid History with the Online Sexual Abuse of Adults and Minors
The horrible nature of this specific crime is not unfamiliar to South Korea, as problems with spycams and “upskirting”, known as molka, gained notoriety in international news in 2018 as protests erupted with the rallying cry of “My Life is Not Your Porn.”
Yet another high-profile case involving the online exploitation and abuse of young women, known as the “Nth Room” case, involved at least 74 victims—including underage girls—who were forced to upload explicit and sometimes violent videos of themselves into chat rooms on the social media and communication app Telegram. At least 260,000 users accessed these chatrooms and paid to access this abusive material using either cryptocurrency or videos of their own. More than 220 people accused of digital sex crimes have been detained by the police and a ringleader, Cho Joo Bin, has been indicted.
Kim Nayoung of the Women’s Party of Korea said in 2018, “sexual abuse is the heart of male dominance — we can see this in that the sexual objectification of women is at an all-time high in South Korean society with pornography and prostitution propelling the engine of patriarchy. It has saturated every aspect of mainstream culture.”
What’s Next for Survivors of Sexual Abuse and Exploitation After Justice is Denied?
With the man behind “Welcome to Video” and its horrific child sexual abuse crimes only serving 18 months of jail time, it looks like Son Jong-woo is set to become still another example of horrific and widespread sexual abuse going largely unpunished. It all feels tragically similar to the way the Jeffrey Epstein case has been playing out here in the United States.
Homeland Security Investigations’ acting executive associate director Alysa Erichs had this to say about the “Welcome to Video” case in late 2019:
“Children are our most vulnerable population, and crimes such as these are unthinkable. The indictment sends a strong message to criminals that, no matter how sophisticated the technology or how widespread the network, child exploitation will not be tolerated in the United States. Our entire justice system will stop at nothing to prevent these heinous crimes, safeguard our children, and bring justice to all.”
With the United States’ extradition indictment now rejected, though, Korean anti-exploitation activists are calling for international allies to stand in solidarity as they continue to fight for Son Jong-woo to face justice for his crimes. After what they see as a failure on the South Korean government’s part to appropriately sentence Son domestically, many activists are wondering what they can do next.
We are also left wondering: when will sexual exploitation and abuse truly be taken seriously and justice served accordingly? It wasn’t enough with Jeffrey Epstein, and it looks like it won’t be enough in the case of Son Jong-woo.
You can help spread awareness of this case by signing the petition to bring Son Jong-woo to the U.S. here.
If you are interested in helping directly in the fight against sexual exploitation either domestically or abroad in South Korea, you can contact our International Centre on Sexual Exploitation here.