Children at Risk in Ireland (Cari) said 30% of all calls received last year were about rape and sexual assault.
There was a 162% increase in rape and sexual abuse allegations last year, with 351 received in 2012, compared to 132 the previous year.
Cari’s acting national director, Majella Ryan, said there had been a dramatic increase in adolescents presenting for therapy who had been gang-raped and assaulted by multiple perpetrators. In some cases, the acts were watched by other young people.
Reports of attacks by multiple perpetrators doubled to 41 last year.
“We are just trying to make sense this development and I think part of it is that children are being sexualised at a far earlier age and many are accessing pornography on the internet,” said Ms Ryan.
Describing the development as “very frightening and worrying”, Ms Ryan said children as young as 11 years were now accessing pornography online.
“We believe part of the damage that we are now seeing can be traced back to early sexualisation and access to pornography on the internet,” she said.
“If children and young adolescents are receiving sex education via pornography on the internet, this is very worrying because their capacity to make sense of what they are seeing is quite limited.
“Also, they are learning about humiliation and degradation being part of the sexual act, as opposed to sex being an intimate encounter within a relationship.”
She also believed that easier access to pornography was normalising deviant sexual behaviour among young people.
Ms Ryan, who was speaking at the launch of Cari’s 2012 report, said last year was a very difficult one for Cari, with the closure of their Cork service and children being left waiting for up to a year for therapy.
“Cuts to Cari services are more serious due to the almost total lack of alternative state or other services for these children nationally,” she said.
“I think children who are sexually abused are largely forgotten because they are voiceless and faceless.”
Ms Ryan said there were far more services available for adult survivors of sexual assault and abuse than there were for children who had been sexually abused.
Cari has had its HSE funding restored to 2012 levels but says it concerned that the Family Support Agency still plans a 12% cut next year for the charity.
Cari said it was delighted that the DPP was bringing a child sexual abuse case where the victim was just four years old when she made her Garda statement and will be aged seven when the case is due for trial.
The charity believes younger children can give clear and articulate accounts of their experience and can made excellent witnesses.
Abuse survivor Fiona Doyle says child victims of sexual abuse should not have to go without vital counselling services because they are starved of funds.
Ms Doyle, who took on her rapist father in the courts and won, said the child-centred services offered by Cari were invaluable because they limited the damage done that could be life-long.
Cari helped deter children hating themselves for the abuse; to move beyond it and not let it define themselves into adulthood, she said.
“I don’t want to see a single child go without services that can make such a difference to them because of a lack of funding,” said Ms Doyle as she launched Cari’s 2012 report in Dublin yesterday.
“My abuse had stopped for a number of years before I was offered counselling. To be able to talk about something I had kept hidden for so long was so liberating.”
Ms Doyle said she would be making the case for secured State funding for Cari when she next meets Taoiseach Enda Kenny.
Cari said its service in Cork had to shut last year, resulting in a 7% drop in therapy and a waiting list of more than 50 children.