A South Korean court has sentenced the mastermind of one of the country’s biggest online sex abuse rings to 40 years in jail.
Cho Ju-bin was found guilty of running a group which blackmailed girls into sharing sexual videos that were then posted in pay-to-view chatrooms.
At least 10,000 people used the chatrooms, with some paying up to $1,200 (£1,000) for access.
Some 74 people, including 16 underage girls, were exploited.
“The accused has widely distributed sexually abusive content that he created by luring and threatening many victims,” the Seoul Central District Court said on Thursday, according to Yonhap news agency.
It said Cho was found guilty of violating laws to protect children from sexual abuse and for running a criminal ring which produced and sold abusive videos in order to make a profit.
Cho’s criminal syndicate sold the videos it acquired through blackmail to secretive chatrooms on the Telegram app.
The case sparked a national outcry in South Korea.
In March, a police committee took the unusual step of naming Cho, a 25-year-old college graduate, after five million people signed petitions asking for his anonymity to be lifted.
“I apologise to those who were hurt by me,” Cho had said that month as he was led away from a Seoul police station. “Thank you for putting a brake on the life of a devil that could not be stopped.”
Police have said at least 124 suspects were arrested and 18 operators of chatrooms on Telegram and other social media, including Cho, were detained following investigations into similar sexual crimes since late last year, reported Reuters news agency.
Five other defendants have received sentences ranging from seven to 15 years.
A ‘long fight’ for women ‘finally yielding results’
As the judges sat down to deliberate, the call for justice from women’s advocates was loud and clear.
Tens of thousands of petitions, including from victims, had been handed to officials on this case urging them to hand down a hefty prison sentence.
South Korean courts have been accused of being far too lenient on digital sex criminals for far too long.
The 40-year punishment for ringleader Cho Ju-bin still falls short of the life sentence sought by prosecutors.
But one women’s rights group described it as “the beginning of the end” of sexual exploitation of women on chat groups.
There are still concerns that the victims of this kind of sex crime are not getting the help they need, and the rest of the criminal syndicate received much lighter sentences.
However, women in South Korea will see this as a start and a sign that their long fight is finally yielding results.
But the words I wrote when this case was made public still ring true.
The fury will not stop here.