A Seoul court on Thursday sentenced the ringleader of the Nth Room – one of the biggest online sex trafficking rings ever discovered in South Korea – to 40 years in prison, falling short of the life sentence demanded by prosecutors.
The Seoul Central District Court found Cho Ju-bin guilty of violating laws to protect minors from sexual abuse and of operating a criminal ring to make profits by producing and selling abusive videos, the Yonhap news agency reported.
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.
At least 74 women, including 16 teenagers, were ensnared in what authorities called “virtual enslavement” between May 2019 and February 2020.
The discovery of the ring sparked a national outcry, with millions of Koreans signing petitions urging authorities to release Cho’s identity and investigate not only the ringleaders but also those who participated in the network, paying as much as 1.5 million won ($1,360) to view the abusive videos and images.
The punishment fell short of a life sentence sought by prosecutors last month who cited irreparable damage done to his victims. One of the victims said in a petition that Cho and his co-conspirators were evil and deserved to be jailed for 2,000 years.
Police have said at least 124 suspects have been arrested and 18 operators of chat rooms on Telegram and other social media, including Cho, imprisoned following investigations into similar sexual crimes that have been under way since late last year.
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.