A Swedish court on Tuesday convicted 23 women and one man of child pornography offenses in what investigators called a unique case because of the number of female perpetrators.
The Falu District Court gave the women, aged between 38 and 70, conditional sentences and fines ranging from 2,500 to 18,000 Swedish kronor ($380 to $2,700). It also sentenced a 43-year-old man to one year in prison for aggravated child pornography.
The court said the women received scores of sexually explicit video clips and photographs of children from the man and discussed them online with him. Some said they liked the images or shared sexual fantasies about the children, and one woman sent pornographic images of children to the man, the court said.
The material showed girls and boys of various ages, from toddlers to teenagers.
The man made contact with the women on the Internet and had sexual relations with about half of them, but they had no connection to each other, the court said.
Some 1,181 pictures and 40 films with child pornography were found in the man's computer, including brutal images of shackled children being raped by adults.
Swedish police said reactions they have received from Interpol indicate this is the first child pornography case worldwide to involve so many women.
The court noted that the man appeared to be seeking out women that had been "struck by tragedies within the family, or had been generally mentally worn out."
"Even though they (the women) ... obviously must take full responsibility for their actions, nothing else can be said than that he has abused their weak psychological state and longing for human contact. This has been systematical," the court said.
It added that the majority of the women would probably not have looked at child pornography had they not been introduced to it by the man.
The man confessed to committing a child pornography offense of the lower degree but denied aggravated crime.
A 39-year-old woman denied any involvement, claiming someone else must have used her computer, while five of the women confessed. The others admitted they had received the files, but denied criminal guilt, saying they weren't aware of what kind of files they had received or had suffered memory loss.
In Sweden, defendants in such cases are not named by the nation's media.
Lawyer Staffan Uvabeck, who represents the 39-year-old woman, says he assumes his client wants to appeal.
"She has denied that she used her computer for this," he said. "Since this happened a very long time ago, five years ago, we believe there is room for other interpretations of what has happened."
Lawyers of other defendants didn't immediately return calls seeking a comment.
Malin Rising can be reached at http://twitter.com/malinrising