About 20 people have been arrested in South Korea for allegedly operating a pornography ring on the instant messaging service Telegram, where videos of a sexual nature were posted in return for cryptocurrency payments.
They are accused of blackmailing more than 70 women, including minors, into creating videos of a sexual nature and selling the materials to Telegram users.
Among the suspects, the most prominent is known by the surname Cho and by the Telegram nickname “Doctor.” Cho is thought to be the largest and most active distributor of illegal video contents on the service, with more than 260,000 followers.
Cho is suspected of securing private information about the victims and Telegram message room members through administrative aides at local government offices. He then used the information to blackmail the victims. He also allegedly forced victims to carve the word “slave” on their bodies and pose with specific gestures to prove to his followers they “belong” to him.
Cho and other suspects are likely to face heavy punishment. Since some of the victims are minors, suspects could face imprisonment if found guilty of the allegations. The followers of Cho and other suspects are also subject to penalties. The police plan to first identify those who possess and distributed illegal video clips.
The news about the arrest of Cho and other suspects came as a relief to South Koreans, but many believe more needs to be done to eradicate similar crimes in the country and prevent them from recurring in the future.
Seo Seung-hee, head of the Korea Cyber Sexual Response Center, is among them. During an interview with local press, Seo pointed out that South Korea lacks relevant laws to punish crimes related to mobile messaging services such as Telegram.
Since there is no clause that exactly covers such an incident, punishment will be decided by the court, said Seo, stressing that sufficient punishment should be given to all accomplices.
She added that a new law to punish the possession of all obscene materials should be established, citing the fact that Cho’s followers, by enjoying the illegal materials, were all contributors to the crime.
Seo also pointed out that while it is also important to decide punishments, such crimes could recur as long as the so-called “rape culture” continues to exist in South Korean society.
The term “rape culture” refers to an environment in which rape is rampant and media and pop culture norms tolerate sexual violence against women, according to Seo.
“The industrial structure that encourages people to believe they can make money by trading women and labels victims ‘promiscuous women’ continues to cause such problems,” she added.
In the case of the Telegram incident, Seo said it is fair to say there existed a “culture” among suspects that wanted to see those illegal videos and photos, and so they created a platform to make money off of the demand.
“Not to mention they make it easier to blackmail victims by labeling them naughty women,” she lamented.
Seo’s suggestions could be realized soon. Amid mounting public anger in the country, South Korean President Moon Jae-in reacted to the case, saying that he agreed on the necessity for investigating all Cho followers and other suspects on Telegram.
Calling the incident “cruel,” Moon demanded that authorities thoroughly investigate the case while vowing to provide necessary help for victims.
Separately, an unnamed source from the Presidential Blue House told the press that the case could trigger the government to review current laws and seek a revision to prevent similar crimes from happening in the future.
Although main suspects, including Cho, have been arrested, the public seems to want more. Not content with demanding heavier punishment and a wider investigation into other pornography rings on Telegram, many are now urging the authorities to reveal the full identities of the suspects.
As of March 23, more than 2.3 million people had flocked to South Korea’s official online petition channel to make such demands, while about 1.6 million people signed a separate petition asking for the disclosure of personal information of all followers of the suspects, including Cho. The numbers, the highest since the petition platform was launched, will only grow.