Irish group to research online child abuse prevention

RCSI CyberPsychology Centre to identify strategies to help law enforcement worldwide

Irish researchers are to begin a study to gain a better understanding of online child abuse in order to help prevent such behaviour and protect children when they use social media.

The two-year project involving a team from the Royal College of Surgeons in Ireland (RCSI) CyberPsychology Research Centre also aims to identify new strategies for law enforcement authorities to help them tackle online abuse.

Funded by the European Commission, it will be run in collaboration with Tilburg University in the Netherlands and Kore University of Enna in Sicily, and is led by Middlesex University's Centre for Abuse and Trauma Studies (CATS).

The research project, Developing research informed good practice policing and industry collaborative models in preventing online child abuse and profiling child victims, will use existing evidence of the online behaviour of perpetrators of crimes such as online grooming and accessing images of abuse.

Research and development co-ordinator at the RCSI centre, Dr Ciarán Mc Mahon, said it would be seeking very high quality researchers to help with the project.

“This is an important first step in the growth and expansion of the research centre, not only with regard to strengthening existing collaborative relationships and developing new academic partnerships, but also in terms of adding high quality researchers to our team.”

He said the researchers were seeking to understand the kind of online signals that might lead to a child being abused online.

They had good links with international police forces, including Interpol and Europol, as well as with a number of social network services providers and websites.

Researchers were also concerned that teenagers or even younger children who were questioning their sexuality would “tend to give off a signal when they are in that questioning or querying stage”.

“Teenagers can be quite vulnerable and it’s something that predators can pick up on.”

The ultimate goal of the study was to produce information for law enforcement and industry that was “a little bit like a checklist”.

The ultimate goal of the study was to produce information for law enforcement and industry that was “a little bit like a checklist”.

“It’s not to prevent children from doing anything online but just to give them certain tips that might protect them and make it easier for law enforcement and industry to pick out the most vulnerable.”

Director of the RCSI's CyberPsychology Research Centre, Mary Aiken, said keeping vulnerable children and young people safe when online was a priority for their work.

“This new study will help us to further understand those who are preying on children across the globe.

“This is an issue that crosses borders and these findings will resonate across the globe. From our launch symposium last October, a central part of our vision for the CyberPsychology Research Centre has been to become an academic resource for law enforcement across the world and we are delighted to work with CATS and our EU partners in furthering that vision.”

Founded in 1784, RCSI is a recognised College of the National University of Ireland.