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Saturday 23 September 2023 Dublin: 15°C
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# operation ketch
40 Irish children were victims of online child sexual exploitation this year
Most of the victims were girls under the age of 16, according to gardai, and many of the images were self-generated.

LAST UPDATE | Dec 6th 2022, 1:16 PM

FORTY CHILDREN WERE found to be victims of online child sexual exploitation this year, gardaí have said.

The online material was shared by Interpol to gardai.

Most of the child victims are young girls under the age of 16, but gardaí said that on some occasions, victims can be of a very young age.

Many of the images shared online are accessed through social media sites.

Superintendent Ian Lackey, from the Garda National Protective Service Bureau, said the majority of the material was self-generated and shared by peers.

However, he said that it is an offence to share explicit images of children.

Superintendent Lackey said that no arrests have been made in relation to the Irish victims, and some of the suspects may be living outside the jurisdiction.

He said that in incidents where the image is self-generated, it depends on who the person has shared the image with or where it ends up online.

“It generally isn’t just one person to one person. Unfortunately, these things can go viral,” he said.

“People might fall out and images might be shared. That causes significant harm and distress for the young person that sent the picture originally.”

He said that gardai will contact the families of the victims while many of the suspects are also under-age.

Superintendent Lackey said that families are usually “extremely shocked” and “disappointed” when they have been told explicit images of their child has been shared online.

He also said that the number of referrals from the National Centre for Missing and Exploited Children in the US is substantially increasing.

The number of referrals jumped by around 50% in the last year.

Superintendent Lackey also warned that anybody can be an online groomer, regardless of their age, gender or race.

“It can take place over a short or a long period of time. From weeks to two years, and groomers can build relationships with young people and their families and friends to make them seem trustworthy,” he added.

“Children are being groomed online or groomed in person by a stranger or somebody they know. It could be a family member, a friend or someone who has targeted them, including teachers, faith group leaders, sports coaches or anybody in authority.”

The warnings come as 10 searches were carried out across the country last week in relation to online child exploitation materials.

Searches were carried out in Limerick, Dublin, Wicklow and Galway, and a number of items were recovered.

The Online Child Exploitation Unit has also referred more than 700 investigation files to local divisional protective service units.

The files were recovered by the National Centre for Missing and Exploited Children and related to people in Ireland viewing online child abuse material.

Superintendent Lackey said that the images are viewed by investigating officers.

“Once that happens, the members from the division of protective service units around the country are also given that image and they have to satisfy themselves that they feel that this also meets the threshold, so it’s a dual quality control approach to it,” he added.

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