South Korean courts have handed down the verdict for “sextortion” ringleader Cho Ju-bin; 40 years in jail. After facing criticisms of leniency in prior digital sex crime cases, Cho’s case was handled carefully. Tens of thousands of written entreaties from both victims and advocates may have encouraged the court to take this case more seriously than previous cases, and Cho’s sentence reflects the evolving attitude about digital sex crimes.
Ju-bin’s Crime Ring Was Immense
The crime ring, led by Cho, was one of the largest ever to be broken up in South Korea. Per Al-Jazeera, “‘The accused has widely distributed sexually abusive content that he created by luring and threatening many victims’ the court said.
The Nth Room ran on the encrypted messaging service Telegram and the perpetrators used private information – sometimes collected illegally from local government offices – to blackmail dozens of women and children into performing sexually explicit acts on camera, with thousands of users paying cryptocurrency to watch.”
Between May 2019 and February 2020, 58 women and 16 teenagers were ensnared by Cho’s “sextortion ring.” A staggering 124 suspects have been arrested in conjunction with the investigation. 18 chat room operators, including Cho, have also been arrested as investigators uncover digital sex crime rings in a broad-net investigation launched late in 2019.
The BBC reports that at least 10,000 users accessed the exploitative material, sometimes paying as much as $1,200 for access.
The Verdict is Handed Down
Two university journalism students discovered the chat rooms last year and reported them. Investigators began looking into it, and in March of 2020, Cho and conspirators were arrested.
CNN reports, “He was later indicted under 15 charges of producing and distributing illegal sexual visual material, forced sexual abuse, rape, sexual harassment, blackmailing, recording sexually abusive behaviors, coercion, violation of private information protection, and fraud.
He was also also found guilty of ‘instructing a third party to directly rape a victim, who was a minor,’ the judge ruled. Cho’s sentence, passed down in the Seoul Central District Court, also included the wearing of an electronic ankle bracelet for 30 years and a fine of 10.64 million Korean won (about $9,600).
Prosecutors had requested life imprisonment, arguing in court that his crime was ‘unprecedented in history,’ and that Cho had ‘insulted and abhorred’ victims without remorse.
After passing the verdict, the judge, Lee Hyun-woo, explained that Cho had no criminal record and ‘has made some agreements with some victims.’ However, Cho had ‘created an organization structure’ victimizing women, and profited off their exploitation.
‘He revealed the personal information of the victims and by doing so not only caused damage, but by distributing this repeatedly caused recurring damage to victims,’ said the judge. ‘His behaviors caused extreme pain on the victims and they are demanding severe punishment.’
‘Considering the seriousness and meticulous plotting of the crimes, the number victims and damage on victims, social harm caused by the crime, and the attitude of the defendant, it is necessary to isolate the defendant from society for a long time.'”
With a History of Dropping the Ball on Digital Sex Crimes, The S Korean Court Faced Pressure
Usually, suspects in these crimes are kept anonymous in the South Korean court system. However, public outcry in March resulted in 5 million signatures on a petition to lift Cho’s anonymity, and a police committee responded by taking the unusual step of naming him to the press.
Thousands of both victims and advocates also wrote entreaties directly to the court. They asked that the judge play hardball with Cho’s sentence. In the past, South Korean courts have faced criticism that they don’t deal harshly with perpetrators of digital sex crimes. After the enormous public outcry and the flood of written pleas, judge Lee was clearly prepared to hand Cho a sentence worthy of his crimes. Although Cho’s sentence stops short of the life imprisonment sought by the prosecution, it signals an evolution in the court’s understanding of the impact of digital sex crimes.
Per Al-Jazeera, “In April, the National Assembly passed a string of laws to make digital sex crimes easier to prosecute. Under the new law, those who possess, buy, store or watch illegally filmed sexual content can be sentenced to a maximum of three years in prison or 30 million won ($24,660). Before the new legislation was enacted, it was not illegal to possess such content.”