In the darker corners of the Internet, lurk predators – trying to seek out children to exploit and blackmail them into sexual abuse that is violent and humiliating. In the last twenty years online child sexual abuse has exploded. In this documentary we talk to a survivor and to the people who are trying to make the Internet a safer place for children and for all of us.
Rhiannon was 13 when a stranger started talking to her online. This was the year 2003 and the birth of the Internet and exciting new ways to connect to people all around the world. She thought she was just making a new online friend.Within a matter of hours, this person had topless photos of her, knew where she went to school and where she lived. Less than 24 hours later, that person was in her bedroom sexually assaulting her and photographing the whole ordeal.
Detective Seargant Mike Smyth works in the Online Child Exploitation Unit in An Garda Siochana. He spends much of his working day viewing some of the most disturbing material of children being tortured and raped to try to track down any perpetrators in Ireland. He used to see children being groomed over a long period of time. Now it happens within a few lines of dialogue.
The problem with images that are put up on the internet is that even if the perpetrator is caught, the images can stay online, or on hard drives around the world, ready to be uploaded again and again. That's where the Internet Watch Foundation comes in. Irish man Henry (not his real name) works in the Internet Watch Foundation. His job is to take down images and videos of child abuse that appear on the internet. He knows that they are swimming against the tide but every image that is taken down it is a fight back against those who want to view or profit from child abuse material.
We also meet Eoin who works in Hotline.ie, the Irish hotline, which is based in Dublin. It's a small team working hard for the same goal – to reduce the amount of child abuse material that is being uploaded and shared around the Internet.
To do these jobs Eoin, Henry, Mike and others like them have to view this material, every day. It is graphic and extreme material. If they are not careful, this kind of work can really take its toll.
Child sexual abuse is nothing new in society. But the internet has brought it to a whole new level and the amount of people who want to watch children being abused online has become what Henry calls 'an epidemic' .
Rhiannon had long-lasting serious effects from her abuse but she has come out the other side, has qualified as a lawyer and now works with the Marie Collins Foundation to raise awareness of the dangers of online predators.
This is a look into some of the darkest corners of the Internet and how the stranger that could harm your child isn't necessarily on the street any more – he could be in their bedroom.
Narrated by Sinead Kennedy
Produced by Sinead Kennedy & Nicoline Greer
First broadcast on RTÉ Radio 1, Saturday 12th of September, 2020 at 1PM
Repeated RTÉ Radio 1, Sunday 13th of September, 2020 at 7PM
If you would like information on how to protect you or your children online, please see Webwise.
If you come across child abuse material online, please report it to Hotline.ie
or to the Internet Watch Foundation.
If you suspect somebody you know is being abused, please contact An Garda Siochana via your local Garda Station or on the Garda confidential line: 1800 666 111
An Irish radio documentary from RTÉ Radio 1, Ireland - Documentary on One - the home of Irish radio documentaries