Youngsters most at risk of sexual abuse by children the same age, say experts
Children are increasingly likely to be sexually abused by people close to their own age, making it more difficult for parents to identify threats online.
Experts are warning that parents need to equip their children with skills to protect them from sexual predators posing as youngsters on social media.
They said that equipping children will enable them to identify threats and prevent sexual abuse.
CARI chief executive, Mary Flaherty, said that the majority of sexual assaults on young people are carried out by their peers or young adults.
"We do find that there are more serious behaviours going on between young people and other young people, even as young as 11-years-old," said Ms Flaherty.
"What is seldom understood is how many of the offences are committed by people under 25. A very high percentage of the abuse is perpetrated by people in that age group," she added.
"The 'dirty old man' in the shabby coat is usually the exception, not the rule."
Ms Flaherty said that grooming is now occurring more often online.
She said that social media aligned with unrealistic expectations created through watching pornography can be very influential on the attitudes of young people.
"Grooming is very little understood and increasing, partially due to the unlimited access new media gives them," she said.
"Online grooming is definitely occurring now. It is usually very young people who get caught up in this and think that their needs are going to be met in terms of a relationship."
Her comments come after a 26-year-old man was convicted of grooming a teenager online by posing as a 13-year-old girl.
Conor O'Keefe (26) from Ballycullen, Co Dublin, set up a profile as a girl called 'Julie' on the website Tagged.com.
After he started chatting to his 15-year-old victim he introduced himself as Julie's older brother 'Adam', and paid for the girl to get a taxi to his house where they had sex.
Another man who had sex with a 16-year-old girl he met on Facebook had his three-year sentence reduced to 12 months this week. The unserved portion of the new sentence was suspended.
The 29-year-old father-of-two pleaded guilty at Dublin Circuit Criminal Court in March to two counts of defilement of a child in 2013.
The Irish Independent contacted Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Snapchat, Tinder, Kik and Tagged.com this week for comments on their child protection policies.
Only Facebook and Instagram replied, with the former directing us to their safety centre website.
A spokesperson for Instagram said they do not monitor content and rely on users to report issues.
"When we are made aware of fake accounts which impersonate children, we move quickly to disable them," she added.
The Children's Rights Alliance chief executive, Tanya Ward, said that people need to be aware of where the risks are for children.
"What is very distressing about these cases is that someone is able to come into your home and prey on your child using the internet," she said.
"One third of sexual assaults are by other children or young people, so there are issues around consent.
"It is rare that a stranger gets this access to a young person or a child."
Ms Ward said that it is essential that children are aware of the dangers of social media.
"You must talk to your children about not sharing personal information and let them know it is alright to come to you if they have shared something with somebody else and don't feel comfortable about it," she said.
"Parents can't supervise everything that their child is doing," she added.
The Dublin Rape Crisis Centre chief executive Ellen O'Malley Dunlop said that more work needs to be done to understand how to prevent sexual assaults. She has called for a second Sexual Abuse and Violence in Ireland (SAVI) report, 13 years after the first was completed.
"It would enable us to compare what is happening today with what was happening when the first report came out," she said.
"We need a second SAVI to see if there has been an increase in the crime and to see if the policies are working," she added.
Numbers for those affected are Dublin Rape Crisis Centre - 1800 778 888, or CARI -1890 924 567.