TEENAGE girls have been urged not to leave themselves isolated in unfamiliar groups following a worrying rise in gang rapes and sexual assaults.
The attacks can happen at house parties and other locations where young people gather. And, because alcohol is sometimes involved, a young victim can be reluctant to tell their parents over fears they will get into trouble for drinking underage.
Children at Risk Ireland (CARI) urged parents to keep the lines of communication open with their teenagers so that they can discuss things that make them uncomfortable.
Majella Ryan, national clinical director with the charity, said there had been a marked increase in reports of gang rapes and sexual assaults which doubled to 41 last year.
"It's happening in lots of different situations. It's happening at parties, it's happening where a young person arranges to meet a guy that she doesn't know terribly well and he turns up with some of his friends and she finds herself in a vulnerable position.
"It can also happen when groups are hanging out and one girl becomes isolated, her friends go home and she's left behind," explained Ms Ryan.
She said when there were witnesses to sexual assaults, the abuse can continue as the victim is bullied on social media and made to feel shamed and humiliated. "In my experience, we're hearing more about these types of cases in the last few years. This type of assault (involving a group of perpetrators) has increased and, in particular, it's down to the internet and easy access to pornography . . . Humiliation and degradation often feature heavily in pornography.
"For many children and adolescents, they're accessing fairly hardcore pornography and this is how they're getting their sex education. If this is how you learn about sex, then it's giving you a very distorted view of sex," she added.
Ms Ryan said one of the challenges facing parents was to give their teenage children some freedom while also trying to keep them safe.
"It's important to let them know its okay to talk about anything they witness or that happens to them that they're not comfortable with.
"You can't lock your teenager up, that's not feasible or healthy, so a big thing is about the teenager feeling able to talk about things they're seeing, talking to them about certain measures they can take to keep themselves safe," she said.