Meanwhile, a specialist treatment service for child sexual abuse said it has seen a “significant rise” in serious assaults by teenagers on teenagers, exacerbated by the use of sexualised photographs to intimidate and isolate victims.
Spunout.ie, a national youth organisation, described the contents of a European study, reported in yesterday’s Irish Examiner, as “pretty disturbing”, but said they were aware of some of the issues.
The study, published by Europol, the EU police agency, said an online retail market was emerging in which explicit photographs and videos of children were being sold and bought.
It said these had either been taken from images voluntarily uploaded by children onto social media sites or extorted from them.
The report, carried out by child exploitation experts from 18 countries, including Ireland, said a new development was the emergence of a profit motive for those involved.
“It is pretty disturbing stuff,” said Ian Power, director of Spunout.ie.
“We are aware of it at some level as it seems to be a mixture of ‘catfishing’ and ‘revenge porn’.”
Catfishing is a process by which a person pretends to be someone else in order to either develop a relationship or get sexual imagery of an unsuspecting person.
Mr Power said: “It can be a way to get photographs, explicit photographs, either to have them personally or to publish them online.”
Revenge porn occurs where a partner shares or threatens to share sexually explicit images of a partner following a break-up.
Mr Power said the money motive highlighted in the European report seemed to be a new development.
“Some people feel there is no issue sharing intimate images between friends. But it is important to know that you have no control over images once you press send and they can possibly be used for bullying, extortion, or sharing.
“You don’t know what’s going to happen in future: friendships may turn sour, relationships may break up.”
Mary Flaherty of CARI, a specialist therapy service for child sex abuse, described the report as “terrifying”, but also said that her group had seen some examples of it.
“There has been a significant rise in serious assaults perpetrated by teens on teens and it is exacerbated by photographs taken and used to intimidate and isolate the victim,” said Ms Flaherty.
She said the emergence of the profit motive — both through extortion and by the online market — marked a “very grave” escalation of the risks.
Ms Flaherty urged young people to “behave on the virtual highway as they would on the real highway” and protect their privacy. She urged parents to maximise communication with their children. “Even if you don’t understand, you can be there for them if they have a bad experience,” she said.
Contact: www.spunout.ie ; www.cari.ie