herald

Saturday 19 October 2019

TV show reveals how innocent photos of Irish teen girls posted on porn websites

Amy MacMahon is a computer generated image (CGI) girl made by RTE’s graphics design department
Amy MacMahon is a computer generated image (CGI) girl made by RTE’s graphics design department

Thousands of photos of Irish teenage girls are ending up on hardcore pornography sites without their knowledge, it has emerged.

They include typical, innocent poses, taken in social settings, the likes of which can be found on thousands of social media pages across the world.

However, RTE's Investigations Unit reveals how those images are being copied by individuals who upload the pictures in their thousands to photo-sharing websites - and in many cases to extreme pornography sites.

In early October, the RTE team created a social media account using a computer-generated image of a girl, with the name Amy, and said her age was 14. The account was left open to the public. Within a week, the account started receiving private messages from teenage boys of a similar age who were encouraging her to exchange messages of a sexual nature.

"Parents and teenagers need to be aware of the dangers online," said former Children's Rights Alliance chief executive Jillian van Turnhout.

Former chief executive of the Child Exploitation and Online Protection Centre Jim Gamble said the photographs are taken out of the context of a social media setting surrounded by friends and are placed alongside hardcore pornography images.

“I’ve seen images of young schoolgirls taken from their Facebook pages, which if you look in that context, some of them are pouting, or posing, almost sexually.

“Take that image and put it into a porn site, it’s uploaded and many fantasise over that image,” he tells the RTE documentary.

Meanwhile, cyber psychologist Mary Aiken said online predators focus on a young person’s vulnerability.

“You can have children, young adolescents, expressing their vulnerability online, saying ‘I hate my friends, I hate my life, my life is miserable’,” Ms Aiken said.

“These are the sort of things most teenagers at some stage think or articulate, but these people are predatory for whatever motive and they effectively prey on this vulnerability.”

Detective Chief Inspector Alan Little explains that a child being groomed online by a stranger is ‘as real’ as someone being abused in real-life.

“It’s the same thing for the child who is in their bedroom at half past ten on their iPhone, their laptop who are being groomed or abused and images being sent... that is every bit much as real as the child who is being abused or physically assaulted,” he said.

The programme airs tonight at 9.35pm on RTE 1.

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