'Unhelpful' preconceptions on online child abuse
on 28/10/2013 00:00:00
However, she says "the more we research in this area, the more we understand that the nature of harm that these offenders can pose can be very broad".
A study in the US showed that amongst internet offenders undergoing treatment, 85% admitted to having sexually abused minors. Lie detector tests backed up their assertions.
"You must remember that the average age that a child is first aroused by another child is 13.5 years and so when dealing with online offenders, we need to ask them about their past as well as their future," Ms Sheehan told a child protection and social work conference in Cork.
"It is vitally important that a thorough assessment is carried out on those who are caught with abusive online images. This must be done so that proper safeguarding can take place."
She said children who sexually abuse before the age of nine are not doing it for sex but more often because of violent, sexually violent, and neglectful childhoods.
Fiachra Ó Súilleabháin, a principal social worker in Cork, told the conferences focus groups have been held where teenage girls have admitted to researchers that they are having sexual encounters with older men they meet online and gay teenagers are also meeting older gay men.
Dr Ó Súilleabháin warned that research does show that young people with "a greater sense of self" are less likely to take part in risky sexual behaviour.
Meanwhile, a psychologist said children as young as 10 are sexting and that it is widespread in secondary schools. Director of Internet Safety for Schools Ireland, Maureen Griffin, said parents need to talk to their children about sexting - sending explicit texts and pictures by phone.
One in four second-level students who responded to questionnaires admitted they had sent sexts, said Dr Griffin.