Children at Risk in Ireland (CARI) believe access to hardcore pornography online, in addition to general “hyper sexualisation” in the media, is contributing to the rise.
It said teenage victims were being “further traumatised” with their assaults being viewed and discussed by peers on social media.
And it said that abused children can wait up to 12 months for therapy because of ongoing funding cuts.
CARI said it noticed a marked increase in calls to its national helpline in relation to rape and sexual assault in 2012. It also found that, in many of the cases, the victim and alleged perpetrator were teenagers.
It said the number rose in 2013 and that by the end of 2014, the figures “worryingly show an overall 43% increase over the three years”.
It said that while some of the increase was due to how CARI now recorded such reports, the “underlying trend is undeniable”.
Speaking ahead of the publication of CARI’s 2013/2014 annual report today, CEO Mary Flaherty said: “The increase is very significant and is a marked shift and we believe that access to pornography and the unrealistic expectations involved with that are contributing, along with general hyper-sexualisation in the media and video games.
“What is particularly disturbing is that the teenagers report being further traumatised by the fact that these assaults were viewed and discussed by their peers on social media sites, which often led to the isolation and bullying of the victims.”
Ms Flaherty said this was a “frightening situation, for young women in particular”. She said CARI recommended an intervention and prevention approach, which should include the implementation of a national education programme for teachers and parents.
She added: “A treatment programme for sexualised behaviour in young children is urgently needed. A significant proportion of referrals to CARI in recent years are for such behaviours is the under-12 age group.”
The CARI report said that, due to funding cuts and staff and structural changes, there had been a 29% reduction in therapy hours in the last three years. It said this had resulted in waiting lists in Dublin and Limerick, where CARI operate full-time centres.
The report said it was “unacceptable” that children who have been abused can be forced to wait up to 12 months for therapy due to cutbacks.
Helpline: 1890 92 45 67; www.cari.ie