Ireland needs to launch a multi-agency response to the “extremely worrying” rise in the online grooming of children.
It comes after a Dublin Garda warned that children are being sexually exploited online every day because of a three-year backlog in cyber-crime investigations.
Garda Damien McCarthy last week put forward a motion at the Garda Representative Association (GRA) annual conference calling for a child exploitation unit to be set up in every Garda division around the country.
He said the rise in online grooming is an “extremely worrying difficulty” being faced by police forces all over the world.
“There has been a ten-fold increase in the type of activity that is involved with online child exploitation,” he said. “There has been a significant increase in what is called online grooming.”
“There have been various reports showing that. The National Advisory Council for Online Safety are after announcing that one-in eight children are meeting up with people in-person that they have met online.
“These are very worrying developments and I think An Garda Síochána needs to take appropriate action. What we are calling for is an online child exploitation unit to be set up in each Garda station in the country.”
Garda McCarthy said the major fear for parents and investigators is the rise of catfishing as a means of grooming children.
He said child abusers are tricking children into sending them intimate images before blackmailing them.
“What we are fearful of is that a young child is conned into interaction with a stranger online which will result in the uploading of explicit images,” he said.
“That then creates a significant risk for any parent because it would be quite difficult for an 11, 12 or 13-year-old to confide in their parents that they indeed have self-generated these images.”
"Serious and significant"
Garda McCarthy said many parents have no idea what their children are doing online.
“When it comes to TikTok, social media platforms and gaming platforms where children are conversing with other people they don’t know, that can be used as tool for a potential suspect to make a connection with a child online and whatever happens after that,” he said.
“The biggest problem we have is that guilt will take over. You can imagine the predicament of a 12, 13 or 14-year-old because what will happen to them is they will be tricked and conned and the guilt will come on them and they will be reluctant to talk to a parent in relation to where they are.
“These are the type of issues we need to highlight. I think they are very serious and significant. It is a growing problem we need to highlight right across the globe.”
Garda McCarthy said the increase is so concerning that we need a multi-agency approach like that used to respond to the COVID pandemic.
“It is a very difficult topic but I think it’s one that warrants more debate and I think it is one that warrants a reaction in this state like we saw in terms of COVID,” he said.
“I think we need a multi-agency approach. I think it is very serious and I think it is right up there with the COVID in terms of the reaction we need in this jurisdiction.”
He said Ireland must also launch a major campaign of awareness to ensure all parents and children are fully aware of the dangers.
You can securely and anonymously report any suspicious activity online through hotline.ie.
If you are someone you know is affected by any of the issues discussed in this article, you can call the CARI helpline on 1890 92 45 67.
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