There has been a 40% jump in confirmed cases of online child sexual abuse imagery reported to the Irish internet industry.
The sharp increase has been accompanied by a worsening in the severity of images and a lowering in the age of victims.
The Hotline.ie annual report for 2017 said that just over half of the images they analysed show sexual activity between adults and children, including rape and sexual torture.
The public reporting system, operated by the Internet Service Providers Association of Ireland, shows there were:
The report said the 524 confirmed cases of CSAI were referred to the gardaí for further investigation. It said most cases involve hundreds or thousands of images and/or videos.
The report’s findings follow a third phase of Operation Ketch this week, involving searches of 32 premises across 12 counties, in relation to the possession of online child abuse material.
Over the three phases of Operation Ketch this year, gardaí have identified more than 100 suspects and seized possibly millions of images.
Hotline.ie manager Ana Niculescu said that it received and processed more reports in 2017 than ever before, and identified 44% more child abuse content than in 2016, with the images and videos found having increased in their severity.
The percentage of images and videos showing children aged between 0 and 12 rose from 71% in 2016 to 79% last year. Of these, 6% are aged 0 to 3 years of age.
The report said almost half of the videos assessed appear to be self-generated by the child.
In a recent assessment, the EU police agency Europol said the increase in CSAI is in part due to a rise in self-generated material.
It said there is a “lack of awareness of both children and their parents” about it, saying that the images are often initially produced and shared voluntarily between peers, but can be redistributed and end up in the possession of online child sex offenders. In some cases, this can result in extortion.
The Hotline.ie report said live video streaming of CSAI is “likely to grow” in the coming years. It said there is a year-on-year rise in ‘disguised’ websites, which are solely dedicated to CSAI and in most cases contain hundreds of images and videos.
The report said that none of the cases were traced to the Republic — the first time in eight years.
In a statement, the ISPCC said: “The creation, use, possession or distribution of any child sexual abuse imagery is child abuse and is a matter of significant concern for the ISPCC.”
It is urging people who accidentally come across it to report it to Hotline.ie.
The statement said: “An Garda Síochána’s ongoing Operation Ketch clearly highlights this is an area of significant concern. It is essential that the appropriate resources are put in place, including appropriate regulation and the necessary Garda resources to keep children safe online.”
This story first appeared in the Irish Examiner.