Some 70 per cent of child pornography online, monitored in Ireland by Hotline.ie last year, depicted boys, the organisation's annual report has said.
Almost 95 per cent of the boys, depicted being sexually abused and or raped, were estimated at being between four and 13 years old.
Hotline.ie is the national reporting service for the internet. The public can anonymously report suspected illegal content to it, particularly child sexual abuse material.
In 2015, more than 3,100 reports were made, the second largest number of reports received in one year, since its establishment in 1999.
More than 2,200 of the reports related to concerns about child sexual abuse, while the remainder included issues such as racism.
Of the 2,200, 327 were determined as containing child sexual abuse, and 70 per cent involved boys.
“It is commonly believed that girls are more likely to be in danger of sexual abuse, but the cruel reality of child sexual abuse, particularly as witnessed by the Irish hotline, is that gender is no exemption, and boys are vulnerable to sexual abuse also,” the report said.
It said the organisation, which is run by the Internet Service Providers Association of Ireland (ISPAI), and is part of an international group of contact services, has seen a constant increase in child sexual abuse imagery depicting boys over the past 3 years, up from 44 per cent in 2013. This does not follow international trends.
“While international figures for 2015 have not been published as yet, historically the content depicting boys has been around 15 per cent,” the report said.
“At this stage, there is no explanation for this, other than the sheer volume of a given genre of sites being constantly reported and captured statistically.”
The report also says Ireland continues to remain virtually free of child sexual abuse material hosting, with only one report in 2015, and 28 since 1999.
The organisation traced the location of 149 confirmed reports last year and forwarded them to the appropriate jurisdiction. But the location of 177 reports could not be found due to the use of the dark net, a network that can only be accessed with specialised software.
Paul Durrant, chief executive of ISPAI and manager of Hotline.ie said it should not be forgotten that behind the imagery, there is a real child who has been sexually abused and exploited.
“Whilst images of the abuse are in circulation on the Internet the abuse is perpetuated and the victim is re-victimised ad infinitum,” he said.
“That is why Hotline.ie and ISPAI Members advocate removal at source as the single most effective way of breaking the cycle.”