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Shock rise in number of violent sex assaults carried out by young

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Dr Cliona Saidlear

Dr Cliona Saidlear

Dr Cliona Saidlear

The number of young people committing sex attacks in Ireland is on the rise.

Studies show a growing trend of younger people committing sexual offences, which Rape Crisis Network Ireland legal director Caroline Counihan described as "concerning".

The number of defilement offences increased last year by 20pc.

"That jumped out at me as a big figure - a big rise in one year," she said.

"I think it means there are more people reporting the crime, and it makes me think there is more sexual activity being conducted against children, which is worrying.

"It could show there is more sexual violence happening among younger people. That's a concern."

Ms Counihan said rape crisis centres had reported an increase in cases of sexual violence.

"I had one centre which had very few reporting for a number of years and in the last six months the number has doubled," she said. "There's of course heightened awareness with the #MeToo movement.

"Gardai are saying they have also seen a dramatic spike in sexual assault reports in DPSU [Divisional Protective Services Units] areas."

The specialised units were set up to investigate sexual abuse and domestic violence cases.

The director of Rape Crisis Network Ireland said it found that nearly 40pc of children who were victims of sexual violence were abused by another child.

Dr Cliona Saidlear said young girls needed to be made aware that young boys who sit with them in the classroom can also be a danger.

The Department of Education is currently carrying out a review of sex education and how consent is taught to schoolchildren.

Shifted

"They are doing a whole system review - they are not just looking at the curriculum content but are also looking at what happens in the corridor," Dr Saidlear said.

"It's about how the whole school responds and creates a safe place.

"Sex education around sexual violence is really about tools to help people around inappropriate behaviour and recognising behaviour in themselves.

"It has shifted that focus from stranger danger and that dirty old man kind of image we have.

"We really need to say that young boys can also be a danger to young girls. It isn't all just fun.

"The sexual violence being perpetrated mostly by young boys on young girls was being named all the time in the public discourse as Romeo and Juliet.

"We were telling girls who were being raped that it was romance gone wrong, that it was disapproved of by adults."

Last week, Health Minister Simon Harris confirmed sex assault treatment units (Satus) would receive an additional €500,000 in funding.

Following a policy review of the Satu services, the number of forensic nurse examiners will also rise from six to 15.

Dr Saidlear said dealing with sexual violence was "incredibly under-funded".

"One of the critical issues is around staff training and retention," she added.

"The whole area around sexual violence is incredibly under-funded, given the scale of the issue. It will be a long time before it will be enough."