Dramatically growing numbers of Irish teenagers are being sexually assaulted or gang-raped by their own peers, a national children's charity has claimed this week.
Cari (Children At Risk In Ireland) a voluntary organization that provides therapy and support to children and families affected by child sexual abuse said it was alarmed by the shocking rise in reports of attacks by multiple perpetrators in 2012, which has doubled to 41.
Mary Flaherty, chief executive of the organization, said staff also recorded a 162% increase in rape and sexual assault allegations on under 18s, from 132 to 351.
Flaherty said teenagers told volunteers that they often partly blamed themselves for the attacks, which were witnessed or sometimes encouraged by others, and they were often left traumatised by smart phone recordings which were viewed or discussed on social media sites.
'Social networking sites also need to play a role in child welfare and protection, which to date they have not done,' Flaherty told the press.
Flaherty added that a 13% cut in State funding last year impacted severely on services to victims, leading to the closure of its own service in Cork and all staff being laid off for a month.
Therapy hours had to be cut by 7% nationwide, from 2,650 hours in 2011 down to 2,474, leaving more than 50 children who were sexually abused on a waiting list for therapy by the end of the year.
Flaherty said it was an appalling indictment of Ireland that some of the 3,300 youngsters who report abuse to health chiefs each year are being let down.
'Children in Ireland continue to be sexually abused every day and we continue to fail them,' she said. 'If you are an adult who has experienced abuse, either in the last 24 hours or as a child, you have access to counselling in every health board area. You also have rape crisis and domestic violence units nations.'
'If you are under 18 you only have support two children's hospitals in Dublin and a service in Limerick which we run.'
According to the Irish Independent the Irish child helpline took 1,493 calls during the year, up 4%. They reportedly included 1,182 calls where a child spoke about their ordeal, 208 silent calls which were seen as a victim's first cry for help and 104 that went unanswered due to minimal resources, a 30% drop on 2011.
The majority of allegations involved a family member and some parents raised concerns over the sexualised behaviour of their teenagers, although no abuse had taken place.
Cari, which also supported 64 children or family members through the criminal courts, also criticised the three to four year delays in cases that impact on a child's life and healing process.