The National Police Agency told reporters that 124 suspects had been arrested and 18 operators of chat rooms on Telegram and other social media had been detained as a result of investigations into such sexual crimes since last September.
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, the 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 over 2.3 million signatures – passing a threshold that requires the president’s office to respond.
The author of the petition urged the authorities to disclose the identity and the face of the man, who allegedly lured victims into taking nude images of themselves and shared them on a chat room on Telegram, a popular encrypted messaging app.
The petition also criticised other participants who paid as much as 1.5 million won (RM5,244) to view the images.
Police said as a matter of policy, they would not reveal the name of the man believed to be at the centre of the network, who went by the username “GodGod”.
The presidential Blue House spokesperson Kang Min-seok told reporters that Moon considered the alleged crimes to be “a cruel act that destroyed human life” and that he had asked police to treat the case as a serious crime.
Moon also urged police to expand their investigation into the members of the chat rooms to change the perception of perpetrators who “hide behind anonymity”.
Late last year South Korean, British and US authorities said they had arrested 337 people worldwide, including 223 South Koreans, after knocking out a child pornography website operated from South Korea. — Reuters
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