Leaked sex tapes and child porn: A look into 13 illicit Telegram chat groups

Leaked sex tapes and child porn: A look into 13 illicit Telegram chat groups

Telegram groups SG Nasi Lemak and SharingIsCaring could be just the tip of the iceberg, as CNA uncovered 13 other similar chatgroups sharing illicit content. Police said they are aware of all the groups and are looking into them.

SINGAPORE: “I’m going to be oddly specific," he said, before asking for nudes or tapes from a specific secondary school in Singapore. 

The question was asked by a user who goes by the handle M in a Telegram group chat with scores of pornographic photos and videos, some featuring Singaporean victims. CNA has redacted his full username.

He didn’t get a reply, but he might have found what he was looking for from the group’s over 9,800 photos and videos, more than 250 files and 200-plus links. 

More than 1,000 members had access to the content when the group was still active in mid-October, with content uploaded daily.

User asking for Hillgrove Secondary_EDITED

This is one of 13 Telegram group chats CNA saw with obscene material from Singapore. These do not include two Telegram chat groups called SG Nasi Lemak and SharingIsCaring, which made headlines earlier this month for allegedly distributing pornographic materials.

Authorities have charged two men and two teenagers for their suspected involvement in disseminating pornographic content in SG Nasi Lemak. 

In response to queries from CNA, the police said they are aware of other chat groups which are similar to the SG Nasi Lemak and SharingIsCaring, and are looking into the matter.

CNA will not be naming the other group chats.

User R 01_EDITED

In a separate conversation seen in the same group chat, another user known as R sent photos of him having sex with his ex. “We were f****** at the staircase and almost got caught,” he added.

Another user egged him on to send more, especially footage where her face could be seen. But R decided against it. 

“Nudes without face is nothing … don’t want make her life horrible (sic),” he insisted. R did not send any more photos or videos after this conversation. 

READ: ‘SG Nasi Lemak’ Telegram chat group: 2 teens among 4 charged with transmitting obscene materials

In the same group chat, CNA saw that there were links to child pornography, with victims who appear to be Caucasian.

But such material is not commonly found in the chats seen by CNA, and frowned upon by most users in the other chat groups, who asked for such content to be taken down.

They are fine, however, with other disturbing material CNA saw being circulated freely – from videos of young girls showering, to upskirt photos and even cases of revenge pornography involving known Singaporean victims.

THE 13 TELEGRAM GROUPS

Anyone can join a private Telegram group chat if they have the invite link, or is added by someone already in the group. Once a person gains access, it is easy to find similar groups. 

The membership numbers of the 13 groups vary – from as low as 500 to as high as nearly 40,000 as of early October. Of the 13 groups CNA saw, six of them have more than 10,000 members. More than half were still active in the same period.

Checks showed that nine of the group chats were created in 2018 and 2019 - one dated back to mid-2017. For other groups, it’s unclear when exactly they were created as group owners don’t allow members to see earlier messages posted in the chat before they joined. 

CNA also saw evidence of the backup plans for communication hatched by members in these group chats in case the original group gets taken down.

Telegram did not respond to CNA’s queries.

Telegram backup plans

A victim, who wanted to be known as Dania, agreed to be interviewed via text messages. According to Dania, her torment began eight years ago, when her ex-boyfriend leaked her photos online. 

Her face can clearly be seen in those photos. They are still being circulated today, with links to the images recently sent to one of the Telegram chats.

She said the first few months after her images leaked online were the most intense for her. “I felt lost, betrayed and had a lot of regrets,” said Dania. 

She said taking down the pictures from the Internet is a “never-ending task”.  She had to scour the Internet to see where the photos had surfaced, and file take-down requests to the sites in question. 

While she had sought help from a lawyer who sent a legal letter to her ex-boyfriend to stop him from posting more content, the damage had already been done from his very first click. 

“Once the images are removed, a few days, weeks or months later, someone else who saved the content will put it up again,” said Dania.

ILLEGAL ACTIVITIES IN THE GROUP CHATS

With the proliferation of Telegram chat groups that distribute such content, illicit content could literally be in the hands of the participants.

CNA showed the chats to Rajah & Tann partner Lionel Tan, who said that many of the activities are illegal.

READ: 4 people arrested over 'SG Nasi Lemak' Telegram chat group

Mr Tan specialises in information technology law, and has handled four cases in the last five years where victims had intimate footage leaked either by jilted exes or via hacked devices. 

The lawyer said that members of the group chat could potentially fall foul of Section 292 of the Penal Code, which criminalises the circulation, possession, and sale of obscene materials. If convicted, offenders can be jailed for three months and fined. 

“(The severity of the sentence) depends on the number of times that (a member) has been distributing. If the sexual act itself is of a fairly depraved nature, all these will enhance the sentence. Users could potentially face a very high fine, or a custodial sentence,” said Mr Tan. 

File sharing 3 sale_EDITED

In the group chats, it is common to find links from file-sharing sites like Dropbox and Mega. The links typically lead to folders of women in various states of undress or performing sex acts.

Many folders are named after the women’s social media usernames; one folder CNA saw had more than 120GB of content.

In some instances, details of the victim's workplaces or schools were available. Some victims also had scans of their passports, ICs or student passes uploaded alongside the explicit content. 

While the file-sharing links are typically shared freely in the group chats, some participants were out to make a quick buck. One user claimed to have 1TB worth of photos and videos of girls he knew, and he was looking to sell his personal collection. 

READ: Suspected administrator of obscene SG Nasi Lemak chat group charged with transmitting porn

As for child pornography, Mr Tan said it doesn’t matter if the victims are eventually proven to not be Singaporean. 

“Universally if any exploitation of a minor is filmed, and then distributed for sexual pleasure or for commercial purposes, I think it is something that authorities in Singapore will take a very harsh stance on," he added.

“MOLES AND INFILTRATORS”

CNA saw the reactions of members in group chats after news broke that police are investigating SG Nasi Lemak. 

Members cautioned each other against using their real photos as profile pictures, raising suggestions like using burner apps or accounts to hide their real identities. Burner apps are typically used to create temporary numbers so a person is not easily traceable.

Moles and infiltrators 1_EDITED

The administrators of one group chat posted to say that random inspections will be carried out on members’ contributions due to “moles and infiltrators”. “Purging” or the removal of silent members “will commence”.

On the other hand, contributors with a high count of “original content” – content that is “not forwarded or repeatedly common” – were to be invited to an exclusive chat group.

Moles and infiltrators 3_EDITED

Members responded. One apologised for posting “a lot of content of clothed girls”, while another promised to contribute more after administrators denied him access because he had “less than 10 actual content post”. 

We saw one instance where a user was publicly welcomed into the exclusive club, and was presumably added.

Mr Tan said such a practice could encourage users to commit criminal acts in order to contribute more obscene videos and images. 

“They could be luring more young girls into such predicaments. Then obtaining such obscene videos and images for the purpose of sharing, and for the purpose of burnishing their credentials so we can get into the other group,” he said. 

“DROWNING”: EXPERIENCE OF A REVENGE PORN VICTIM

Women’s rights group AWARE were also shown the group chats. Senior case manager at the Sexual Assault Care Centre Lim Xiu Xian said the group chats perpetuate a culture where the objectification and sexualisation of women is made a casual thing. 

“All this normalises the behaviour, it doesn’t tell them that this is wrong, they shouldn’t be doing this, and it’s a violation of another person,” said Ms Lim. 

Trying to stop the proliferation of such leaked footage also exacts a heavy toll on revenge porn victims. 

“It’s very overwhelming for them to search for their names and keywords related to the images, there’re so many avenues they have to tackle,” said Ms Lim.

“It causes anxiety, like sometimes they have issues with sleeping, they may have flashbacks and relive the intrusion over and over again. The issue of self-blame and shame is also there.” 

Women's rights group AWARE says the sharing of intimate photos and videos of a woman without her consent is an act of sexual violence. Police are looking into 13 group chats on Telegram.

For victims like Dania, these group chats demonstrate how revenge porn victims are blamed and shamed - repeatedly.

“Women who’ve such pictures taken (and unfortunately leaked out) are deemed as improper women and it seems appropriate to hurl insults at them,” Dania said. 

“One rude comment may just slide like a raindrop down a duck’s back, but continuous never-ending ones may drown the duck.”

Ms Lim also pointed out that the activities in the group chats are considered image-based sexual abuse. The term covers many types of sexual footage taken or shared without consent, including revenge pornography, upskirt photos and sextortion. 

It can also cover instances where photos of fully clothed women are distributed in a sexualised environment for the gratification of others, like in the Telegram chats.

CNA saw many instances of Instagram posts hived from public social media accounts and posted in the group chats. 

We spoke to one victim who wanted to be known as Sarah. After a friend told her that photos from her social media accounts surfaced in one of the Telegram group chats, she made a police report. Even though she was fully clothed in the pictures, she still felt violated. 

“I was angry because I never gave (the perpetrator) the permission (to post my photos in the chat) … (Those in the chat) made comments about my body, and sexual comments about wanting to do this and that,” said Sarah. 

AWARE said that experiences like Sarah’s are distressing for victims because they feel like they have lost control. 

“When (photos or videos) are posted on their social media, they have control over how it is seen … However, when it comes to these group chats, even very innocent photos - they are sexualised, and the intention is for someone else's pleasure,” Ms Lim explained.

Sarah has no idea who circulated her photos in the chat, but she found out her former schoolmates were in the group. However, nothing could prepare her for the shock of seeing her former school coach in the chat group as well.  

“I looked up to him a lot, because he always encouraged us. Him being in the group chat just makes it feel worse,” said Sarah.

Ms Lim said there’s a misconception that image-based sexual abuse is not as damaging as physical sexual violence. 

“The truth is that it’s just as real,” she said. “The shame and loss of control over the situation can be amplified in image-based sexual abuse because they can't control how these images will be used or how widespread the distribution might be, if it is distributed."

WHAT TO DO IF YOU ARE A VICTIM

While members can hide their phone numbers from strangers on Telegram, the anonymity is not certain. Users can check if someone is in a chat group if they have the person's number saved in their phone address book.

“If I'm the police or law authority, I think I would focus on the perpetrators who are most active in the group, the ones who are sharing the most offensive material … I think the police will take concerted action to investigate and find a way to then try and uncover that mobile number, and from that mobile number, uncover the identity of the individual,” said Mr Tan.

AWARE advises victims to immediately start gathering evidence once they realise their photos have been leaked online. 

This includes taking screenshots of who is sending and receiving the content. If they know who the perpetrator is, they can also choose to make a police report. Victims may also file take-down requests with sites where the photos are uploaded.

As for Dania and Sarah, they hope that members of the public who come across illicit content or group chats can report them to relevant site owners, and to not further disseminate the content.

"Members of the public are advised to stop soliciting in any lewd website or joining such online platforms and illicit chat groups," said the police, adding that they will continue to take tough enforcement actions against those breaking the law.

Editor's note: The first version of this story included the name of a school, which has been removed.

Source: CNA/hm

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