Harmful sexualised behaviour in children is increasing and is a “very significant and disturbing problem”, according to a leading children’s therapeutic service.
The Cari Foundation said there were 62 callers to its helpline reporting sexually harmful behaviour on children by children.
Of these, 39 were carried out by children aged 12 and under, while 23 involved assailants aged 13-17.
Sexually harmful behaviour is at the less severe end of the sexual abuse spectrum, which includes sexual assault and rape.
The figures, provided to the Irish Examiner and not revealed publicly before, also show that 38 callers reported children being sexually assaulted by children and a further 35 raped by children.
A full breakdown of the helpline figures show:
Children aged up to 12 years were assailants in 39 cases of sexually harmful behaviour, 15 cases of sexual assault, and six rapes;
Teenagers aged 13-17 were assailants in 23 cases of sexually harmful behaviour, 23 incidents of sexual assault, and 29 cases of rape.
The organisation said early intervention was key as the figures showed that the older the child, the “more severe” the presentation.
“Harmful sexualised behaviour in children is a very significant, increasing, and disturbing problem and we are seeing it present through all our services in Cari,” said Eve Farrelly, Cari Support Services manager.
She described the most recent figures they had compiled as concerning.
Another concerning development that our helpline statistics show is that when callers ring about children with sexually harmful behaviour, the older the child is, the more severe the presentation.
Ms Farrelly said figures from 2017 showed the most common presenting issue in young children was sexually harmful behaviour, but the most common issue in adolescents was rape.
“Cari’s experience in working with children who present with these problems is that early intervention is crucial,” she said.
Cari says normal sexual exploration, such as naive play between two children, is not harmful behaviour, which is typically different in tone and could involve coercion or dominating aspects or an age difference.
Harmful behaviours for children aged 12 or under could include pulling off of undergarments, sexually explicit conversations, simulating foreplay with dolls or peers, touching of genitals, and forcing exposure of genitals.
The concerns by Cari follow a report two weeks ago in which a five-year-old girl was allegedly subjected to “sexualised behaviour” by up to three boys aged between seven and 10, one of whom may have had a stick.
That incident is reported to have occurred in a shed of a derelict house in the northern part of the country.
While it was reported to gardaí, it is understood the matter is primarily being investigated by Tusla, the Child and Family Agency.
Separately, gardaí in Wexford are investigating an allegation of serious sexual assault on a juvenile girl, and possible attacks on other girls, also aged in their mid- teens, by a group of young males last weekend.
The organisation said it offered specialised therapeutic intervention for children who have been impacted by sexual abuse, and for children up to and including the age of 12 who present with sexually harmful behaviour.
Ms Farrelly said it was rolling out a “family-based, evidence-informed treatment” for children with sexually harmful behaviours.
“This is an already established therapeutic intervention that Cari are piloting in Ireland,” said Ms Farrelly.
“This is supported by philanthropic funds from America, for children up to 12 years who have been referred to Cari by Tusla for harmful sexualised behaviour.”
CARI National Helpline: 1890 924 567; www.cari.ie; or facebook.com/cari.ie