Editor’s Note: Welcome to my weekly column, Virtual Case Notes, in which I interview industry experts for their take on the latest cybersecurity situation. Each week I will take a look at a new case from the evolving realm of digital crime and digital forensics. For previous editions, please type “Virtual Case Notes” into the search bar at the top of the site.

As the internet increasingly advances and ingrains itself into everyday life, online words and actions can sometimes seem just as real as they do in the physical world. Many people forge serious friendships and relationships online, with video calling services like Skype and ooVoo making it even easier to feel like people even hundreds of miles away are right there in the room with you.

But the dark side of this connectedness was highlighted late last month, when a Swedish court ruled that a man who had coerced children in other countries to perform sex acts on a webcam was guilty of the crime of rape. On Nov. 30, Bjorn Samstrom, 41, became the first person in Sweden convicted of rape for offenses committed solely over the internet, according to the Associated Press.

Carin Westerlund, one of four judges who decided Samstrom’s case, told Forensic Magazine this week why the online offenses constituted rape, first by explaining Swedish law and the Swedish justice system. (Criminal cases in Sweden are tried not by a jury but in a district court by three lay judges and one legally trained judge—Westerlund was the legally trained judge and the chairman of the court for this case.)

“According to Swedish (rape) law, it’s the violation that counts,” Westerlund said. “The violation should be equal to that of an intercourse.”

Westerlund explained that that could include oral sex or some other form of sexual contact, or could include someone being forced to penetrate themselves with an object. In the latter sense, rape does not necessarily require physical contact between the offender and victim, which was important in deciding Samstrom’s case.

However, the decision was not made lightly—as Westerlund explains, of the approximately 50 charges arising from Samstrom’s manipulation of the 27 victims (26 girls and one boy), who were from the United States, Canada and Britain and all under the age of 15, only two scenarios resulted in rape convictions. These scenarios were the most extreme and the most violating—tantamount to rape under Swedish law.

“There was a 13-year-old girl who was forced to do things upon an 11-year-old girl, and we said that the things that she did to this girl equaled rape. The 11-year-old girl was actually raped by the 13-year-old, but since this man was the one orchestrating everything and forcing the 13-year-old to do these things, he was also considered essentially participating,” Westerlund described, of one of the offenses for which the court handed Samstrom his 10-year rape sentence. “And then there were two girls who were forced to perform sex acts on animals. And we said that that was so violating that the violation itself could be considered equal to that of an actual physical rape.”

Samstrom coerced his victims to perform these acts over webcam through Skype and ooVoo video chat services by threatening to kill their relatives and to post pictures of them on pornography sites, according to the Associated Press. In addition to rape, the court convicted Samstrom of possessing child pornography, for saving the recordings of his victims. (Samstrom is appealing the rape verdict, according to the AP.)

Swedish authorities discovered Samstrom’s crimes while investigating another sex crime Samstrom allegedly committed, leading to a search of his home—there, police found the videos on his computer, an external hard drive and a USB drive, which later became the main evidence in the case, Westerlund said.

“It’s really from those films and the information they got on those films from different ooVoo accounts and Skype accounts that they were able to find these girls,” Westerlund recounted. “Usually it’s the other way around; it’s the victim who makes the claim. Then you try to track the perpetrator. But here you had this perpetrator and the films, and you’re trying to track down the victims to be able to interrogate them.”

Eighteen of the 27 victims were located with cooperation from British, Canadian and U.S. authorities, and those victims recorded video testimony that was played at the 20-day trial. Nine other victims where never located.

Although this case was a first in Sweden, I found least one other case of a rape conviction arising from online offenses.

In September of this year, a British court convicted Paul Leighton, 32, of raping a 1-year-old girl, though at the time of the rape he was approximately 4,000 miles away from the victim. Leighton had posed as a teenage girl and convinced the baby’s 14-year-old uncle to send him explicit pictures of himself—he then used the photos to blackmail the boy into raping his niece, according to BBC News. British authorities sentenced Leighton to 16 years for the rape and multiple other sexual offenses—U.S. authorities also charged the 14-year-old boy.

A U.S. case from 2001 also lends interesting insight into the issue of “virtual” sexual assault. New Jersey man James Maxwell, then 48, called a 10-year-old girl on the phone, told her he was a gynecologist and coerced her to put her finger into her vagina, the New York Times reported. Authorities charged Maxwell with aggravated sexual assault for this coercion, leading him to argue that just instructing the girl over the phone did not warrant such charges.

But the Superior Court of New Jersey ruled against him, saying “A person who is threatened by telephone can be a victim of a terroristic threat. A person who is coerced by telephone into surrendering property can be a victim of an extortion. An actor who uses a stolen credit card to order merchandise by telephone has committed a credit card theft.” Maxwell was convicted of aggravated sexual assault and endangering the welfare of a child, and remains a registered sex offender to this day.

As Maxwell’s case may have set a precedent in New Jersey regarding phone communication, Samstrom’s case sets a new example in Sweden of online actions considered so violating that they are equal to physical rape. Though groundbreaking in a sense, Westerlund says the case is not a breakaway from the enforcement of Swedish law, only a new application of the law to a startling new reality.

“I didn’t divert from any of the other court rulings,” Westerlund said. “But no one has ruled over material like this before.”