GROWING numbers of teenagers are being sexually assaulted or gang-raped by other young people, a children's charity has warned.
Children at Risk in Ireland (CARI) said it was alarmed by the rise in reports of attacks by multiple perpetrators last year, which doubled to 41.
Chief executive Mary Flaherty said staff also recorded a 162pc increase in rape and sexual assault allegations from under-18s, from 132 to 351.
"The sexualisation of children and young people and easy access to pornographic imagery plays a vital role in how young people perceive sex and sexuality," she said. "Social networking sites also need to play a role in child welfare and protection."
However, cuts in state funding have forced the charity to close a therapy service for child victims of sexual abuse.
CARI said its service in Cork had to shut, reducing available therapy to children by 7pc and leaving a waiting list of 50 young people.
The organisation's annual report points out that it is the only specialist therapy service for child victims of sexual abuse in the region.
Therapy hours had to be cut by 7pc nationwide, from 2,650 in 2011 to 2,474, leaving more than 50 children on a waiting list for therapy at the end of last year.
Ms Flaherty said it was an appalling indictment on the nation that some of the 3,300 youngsters who report abuse to health chiefs each year are being let down.
CARI's acting clinical director Majella Ryan said: "It was a very difficult year, seeing the devastation of clients with the closure of our Cork service.
"The long-term effect of sexual abuse on children when they do not receive interventions is well documented.
"Children as young as eight present with thoughts of suicide and self-harm. When left untreated, they can develop problems with addiction, social skills and many other things that can make life unbearable."
The organisation must implement further cuts and is struggling to fund the service to the end of the year.
The CARI helpline is Lo Call 1890 92 4567.