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Some victims stopped using the internet, suffered depression

In precedent, man gets 5 years for trading in intimate photos of 130 women, girls

Idan Mikhailov, 22, handed Israel’s highest sentence for such a crime; he operated paid Telegram channels, published identities and contact details of victims, including 30 minors

Idan Mikhailov, convicted of distributing sexual images and videos of more than 130 women, including 30 minors, on paid Telegram channels he managed, arrives for a court hearing at the Beersheba Magistrate's Court, September 7, 2022. (Flash90)
Idan Mikhailov, convicted of distributing sexual images and videos of more than 130 women, including 30 minors, on paid Telegram channels he managed, arrives for a court hearing at the Beersheba Magistrate's Court, September 7, 2022. (Flash90)

An Israeli court on Wednesday issued the country’s most severe punishment ever for trading intimate images and videos online, handing a five-year sentence to a man who published sexual footage of more than 130 Israeli women and girls and disclosed their personal details.

The Beersheba Magistrate’s Court sentenced 22-year-old Idan Mikhailov from the southern town of Ofakim, who was convicted in a plea deal that saw him confess to sexual harassment and harming the privacy of his victims, 30 of whom were underage girls.

Mikhailov operated several channels on the Telegram social media app, taking payment from thousands of clients for the intimate photos and videos he offered, without the victims’ permission or knowledge.

There were 133 victims, according to the court ruling, and their ages ranged from 14 to late 30s. They included 30 girls who were aged 14-18 when the indictment was filed.

The charge sheet said the channels operated by Mikhailov had some 2,900 followers. It notes that Mikhailov advertised his channels by saying the content he was publishing was exclusive, and linked to his victims’ personal social media pages with their personal details as proof that they were Israeli. This enabled users to contact and sexually harass the women and girls.

In addition to the five-year prison sentence, Judge Anat Hulata ordered Mikhailov to compensate his victims with NIS 3,000-7,000 ($875-2,040) each.

“The defendant’s actions caused the objectification of the women and traded in their sexuality,” Hulata wrote in her ruling. “The actions contribute to the contamination of cyberspace and cause it to be unsafe for the plaintiffs and for innocent users who encounter the content.”

Noting that the anonymity provided by platforms such as Telegram makes such crimes “easy to commit and hard to uncover,” which Hulata said “enables even those who wouldn’t dare to commit the crimes outside of the virtual realm to cross the line.”

She said the publishing of such material online is irreversible, and that this had caused some of the victims to experience depression and difficulty functioning and finding jobs. “Some stopped or restricted the use of the internet,” she said.

Hulata took into consideration Mikhailov’s young age, his lack of a previous criminal record and his confession, which spared the victims the need to testify. However, she also noted his lack of empathy toward his victims.

Screen capture from an Israel Police video showing images and videos of hundreds of naked women and minors that were allegedly traded by a suspect on the Telegram app without their knowledge, October 2021. (Israel Police)

Mikhailov was arrested in October 2021 and has been in custody ever since. The original charge sheet included some 170 victims, but that number was reduced as part of the plea bargain.

The previous longest prison sentence for similar offenses in Israel had been four years and two months.

Prosecutors Itai Gohar and Inbal Klein commented that “the court has supported the victims and sent a clear message to those who believe this is negligible criminal activity that carries a low penalty.”

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