A sexual blackmail ring that operated on the app Telegram and targeted dozens of women, including underage girls, has rocked South Korea and triggered demands for authorities to crack down on the rising number of sexual offences online.
Police yesterday took the unusual step of naming the man who allegedly ran an online network that lured at least 58 women and 16 girls into what authorities called “virtual enslavement” by blackmailing them into sending degrading and, in some cases, violent sexual images of themselves.
Cho Ju-bin faces charges of violating the Child Protection Act, the Privacy Act and the Sexual Abuse Act, as well as abuse, threats and coercion, after he was identified as the blackmail ring’s leader.
The 25-year-old, who allegedly used the nickname baksa (doctor), is accused of distributing and streaming the videos in a group chatroom on the messaging service Telegram.
Police, who have referred the case to prosecutors, made Cho’s name public after a record 5 million South Koreans signed multiple petitions on the presidential office Web site demanding that authorities reveal his identity.
Wearing a neck brace and handcuffed to his waist, Cho was paraded yesterday before journalists at the Jongno Police Station in Seoul before officers drove him to the prosecutors’ office.
“I apologize to those who were hurt by me,” Cho said as he was led out of the station, but he did not respond when asked by reporters if he had admitted to the charges. “Thank you for ending the life of a demon that I couldn’t stop.”
Police officers created a perimeter around the station’s gate to block off angry protesters, who waved signs that read: “From chatroom to prison” and “Punish all users,” while yelling: “Give him the highest penalty.”
The decision to release Cho’s name came after South Korean President Moon Jae-in on Monday denounced the crimes as “cruel,” adding that public anger was “justifiable.”
Police would also investigate users who paid up to 1.5 million won (US$1,217) in cryptocurrency payments to view the abusive images allegedly uploaded by Cho.
Police said that more than 260,000 people used similar sites, collectively known as Nth rooms, Yonhap news agency reported.
Cho allegedly approached women seeking part-time work and offered them payment in return for nude photographs, Yonhap said.
He then allegedly threatened to reveal the women’s identities unless they sent clips of themselves performing sexual acts, including those involving violence.
Some were forced to carve the word “slave” on their bodies and pose in a way that would prove to chatroom users that they “belonged” to Cho, reports said.
The victims included 16 girls of junior-high school age, South Korean media said.
South Korea is already grappling with an epidemic of secretly filmed images of a sexual nature, known as molka, which are then shared online.
“Through strict investigation, the police will entirely transform the social apathy to digital sex crime and strongly root out such crime from our society,” Korean National Police Agency Commissioner General Min Gap-ryong said.
The agency said that 124 suspects had been arrested and 18 operators — including Cho — of chat rooms on Telegram and other social media had been detained since September last year.
The Korea Herald said the Cho case proved the need to strengthen penalties for sexual crimes.
Currently, those found in possession of abusive images of children receive a year in prison or a fine of 20 million won.
Additional reporting by AP
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