A GROUP of possibly 10 men, including a garda and a teacher, are being investigated over the abuse and maltreatment of a 14-year-old boy.
This horrifying case has only come to light because the boy's mother, in a fit of maternal worry, decided to check her son's mobile phone messages.
What she found sent her running to the gardai, who, thankfully, acted quickly.
This story brings to the fore many fears that lie below the surface in our modern society.
We fear the monsters and predators who walk in our midst.
We fear the brave new world that technology opens up and that we struggle to control.
We fear what our children are doing when they are not at home.
And we must remember that fears serve a purpose.
They prevent us from committing thoughtless acts, and they serve to protect.
If this mother had not feared for her son, the abuse and the torment would have continued, and these abusers would remain free to act on their insidious desires.
However, there are deeper levels to this complex story.
The young lad in question, who was 13 when his contact with these paedophiles began, claims that the sexual relationships he had with them were all consensual.
In other words, he is stating that he was not raped, and that, to his mind at least, there was no abuse.
While most adults looking on would baulk at such a notion, we must remember that there are also those who would agree with it.
There are, in fact, campaigns in many countries to have certain behaviours, acts which we would describe as child abuse, made legal.
The Campaign for Paedophile Emancipation, in Sweden, for example, has requested that relationships between adult men and boys over the age of 13 be legalised, and that pornographic images containing children of that age be permitted under law.
And this is not an isolated group. Paedophiles in most countries in the West have, at some time or other, mounted similar lobbies.
It is a measure of how 'civilised' such nations are that the pleas of such groups have fallen on deaf ears.
What could cause a young boy from a loving, supportive family, who is still in the school system and doing well, to accede to the dark wishes of men such as these?
It is a difficult question, but not one that is impossible to answer.
The teens are a time of deep confusion, where physical drives that have not existed for the child before suddenly surface.
These are drives that require an adult's level of emotional and intellectual understanding to harness and control, which is precisely why we set legal ages of consent on sexual congress.
Children question the nature of their sexuality.
Some spend several years in a state of sexual confusion.
There is a natural process of experimentation and exploration between peers, which is normal and healthy. This, unfortunately, is also the time when predators can pounce.
Paedophiles have a recognisable pattern of behaviour.
Children are rarely grabbed off the street (although that does happen).
Usually a process of befriending is gone through.
Children will be plied with sweets, toys, clothes, and - most importantly - attention.
Trust is built up over time. Sexual contact is initiated slowly and tentatively.
Children, particularly teens, will often say that they consented.
Some will even state that they enjoyed the experience. But that does not make it right.
The impact of such experiences for the long-term development of the individual can be hugely detrimental.
Sexuality is one of the most powerful and important aspects of who we are.
Adults are in a position of power and authority.
PROFESSIONALS such as gardai and teachers should be figures in children's lives who can be unquestioningly trusted beyond question.
Thankfully, paedophile rings are rare.
But they do exist. And it is a great relief that the gardai have shown such speed and sensitivity in dealing with this particular group.
Shane Dunphy is a child protection worker and lecturer. He is the author of 'Last Ditch House'