South Korean President Moon Jae-in called yesterday for a full investigation into a network of chat rooms at the heart of an operation to blackmail women and underage girls into sharing sexual images of themselves.
The National Police Agency announced 124 suspects have been arrested and 18 chat-room operators on Telegram and other social-media outlets detained as a result of sexual-crime investigations that began in September of 2019.
According to The Diplomats, among the suspects, the most prominent is known by the surname Cho and the Telegram nickname “Doctor.” He is thought to be the largest and most active distributor of illegal videos on the social-media outlets with more than 260,000 followers.
The perpetrators would attract victims through fake job advertisements and solicit compromising photographs. They would then threaten to release the photographs if the victims did not send images of increasingly degrading and violent acts, police said.
At least 74 women, including 16 underage girls, were “virtually enslaved” for several months, police said. In some cases, the victims were blackmailed into committing violent acts on themselves.
Public outrage hit critical mass yesterday as a petition gathered more than 2.3 million signatures — passing a threshold that requires the president’s office to respond.
The petition’s author urged authorities to disclose the identity of the network kingpin — who went by the user name “GodGod” — and release his picture.
The suspect allegedly lured victims into taking nude images of themselves and shared them in a Telegram chat room, a popular encrypted-messaging app.
The petition also criticized other participants who paid as much as 1.5 million won (US$1,187) to view the images.
Police said as a matter of policy they would not reveal any of the suspect’s names.
Presidential Blue House spokesman Kang Min-seok said Moon considered the alleged crimes “a cruel act that destroyed human life” and asked police to treat the case as a serious crime.
Moon also urged police to expand their investigation into chat-room members to change the perception of perpetrators who “hide behind anonymity.”
As digital sex crimes increase worldwide, South Korea has become the global epicenter of spycam pornography — the use of tiny, hidden cameras to film victims naked, urinating or having sex.
Last year, South Korean, British and American authorities said they arrested 337 people worldwide, including 223 South Koreans, after taking down a child pornography web site operated from South Korea.