Concerns that indecent images of children shared online are often taken by children themselves have been raised after a UK watchdog found that 30% of these types of images were user-generated.
Eve Farrelly, executive director at Cari (Children At Risk in Ireland), said that peer-to-peer abuse is a serious issue in Ireland.
“We have definitely seen an increase in peer-to-peer abuse, and technology is often used in this,” she said.
“Someone takes a picture or distributes a video, it could be two people who think that they’re in a relationship — they send a picture to their boyfriend, who screenshots it and shows it to a friend. You potentially lose control of that image forever when you send it. If you wouldn’t send it to your grandmother, do not send it.
“It’s about control, reclaiming your autonomy, and control by not sending it out into the world. Young people need to be made aware of the longevity of anything shared online.”
Ms Farrelly said that Cari, which provides specialist support for victims of child sexual abuse, has 90 children on a waiting list of about one year for its services.
The organisation is currently supporting 56 children therapeutically, including three children aged under three years. It saw more than 100 children for forensic examinations and had more than 1,000 calls to its helpline in 2019.
Of the 90 children it helped through criminal trials last year, the majority had experienced rape or sexual assault.
“Without the right intervention at the right time, the detrimental impact of the abuse can last a lifetime,” said Ms Farrelly.
Interventions and therapy do not erase the abuse, but with it the abuse does not become the fingerprint of who you are as an adult, but it becomes an experience you had.
The UK’s Internet Watch Foundation found that about one-third of explicit images of children it discovered online were selfies.
A report from Hotline.ie, a confidential online tool where people can report images of child abuse, found that reports of these images jumped by 174% between 2017 and 2018.
Its analysts found 1,437 reports of child abuse content posted online in 2018 compared with 524 in 2017.
It said 6% of children in the imagery were aged three years and younger, 77% were aged four to 12, and 17% were aged 13 to 16; 74% were girls, 6% were boys, and 20% were both boys and girls.
Of the images, 6% involved the most extreme category of abuse, level 5, involving sadistic sexual torture or bestiality involving a child, and 47% were in the second most extreme category, involving penetrative sexual activity between adults and children.