Trolling behind the anonymity afforded by an encrypted chat app, the man who called himself “Baksa” pretended he was many things: a no-holds-barred loan shark, a private eye for hire and a fortysomething Korean with a prosthetic leg living outside the law’s reach in Cambodia.
In reality he was an out-of-work recent college grad who’d been bedridden for a year after a limb-lengthening surgery to overcome insecurities about his height.
From his bedroom, Cho Ju-bin, 25, spun illusions and masterminded one of the most notorious sex crime schemes to shake South Korea in years. He blackmailed dozens of young women into providing sexually compromising images and videos, which he sold to tens of thousands of his users. Authorities say he and his collaborators, including a 16-year-old boy, ran the operation through secretive chatrooms on the app Telegram. They hunted for prey through social media and reaped their profits through the cryptocurrency bitcoin.
The case has ignited a fierce debate in South Korea about justice and how to exact punishment for digital sex crimes. The wide-reaching scandal has again exposed an underlying culture of cavalier consumption of material depicting sexual abuse. Among the hundreds being investigated as having joined the chatrooms are police officers and elementary school teachers.
“Because of the level of abuse and the number of victims, collaborators and participants, there was a collective shock to our society,” said Lee Hyo-rin, an activist and victim counselor with the support group Korea Cyber Sexual Violence Response Center.
The scheme is the latest in a series of headlines that have roiled South Korea in recent years involving illicit sex videos or spy cam recordings that have put the country’s women on edge and raised questions about the dark side of the nation’s much-touted internet and smartphone infrastructure and technological adaptation. In 2019, some of the country’s most popular K-pop stars were investigated and convicted of crimes related to the sharing of illegally recorded sexual material, some involving women who were drugged and raped.
Cho — who also called himself “CEO Park” — was sentenced to 40 years in prison on Thursday. Prosecutors had sought a life term. Others accused of conspiring with him to recruit and threaten the victims, advertise the chatrooms and monetize the profits received sentences ranging from seven to 15 years.
Police say more than 70 women, many of them minors, were lured into providing personal information under the guise of a potential high-paying liaison with an older man and then blackmailed into providing sexually explicit material