59. Deputy Jim O'Callaghan asked the Minister for Justice and Equality the steps he is taking to protect against social media platforms being used by sexual predators to target children (details supplied); and if he will make a statement on the matter. [5680/18]
Minister for Justice and Equality (Deputy Charles Flanagan): The Government is committed to providing the necessary legislative and other tools required by An Garda Síochána in order to investigate sexual offences against children and bring perpetrators to justice, whether their offences are committed online or on the streets.
The Criminal Law (Sexual Offences) Act was enacted in early 2017. It is a wide-ranging piece of legislation, which significantly enhances laws to combat the sexual exploitation and sexual abuse of children. Specific offences have been provided for in this Act to target the recognised steps in what is often a gradual process of grooming a victim.
Among the provisions of the 2017 Act are measures to significantly strengthen the existing criminal law in combating child exploitation and, in particular, address the use of modern communication technologies as a tool, which may lead to child sexual exploitation.
Deputies will be aware that sophisticated grooming often involves seemingly innocent contact with, or befriending of, a child, perhaps through text messaging, social media or messaging apps. This may be followed by the exposure of the child to sexual images or content. Section 8 of the Criminal Law (Sexual Offences) Act 2017 provides for a specific offence of using information and communications technology to communicate with a child for the purposes of sexual exploitation. The new offences will allow An Garda Síochána to investigate and bring to justice online predators and carries a penalty of up to 14 years imprisonment.
Section 8 of the Sexual Offences Act 2017 also includes an offence of sending sexually explicit material to a child. This is in recognition that the intention behind this type of activity may be to expose the child to such material with a view to developing the child’s familiarity with such material or activity so as to facilitate the production of pornography or to meet the child for the purposes of sexual exploitation. The penalty for this offence is up to 5 years imprisonment.
Deputies will also be aware that child trafficking and exploitation (including the production of child pornography) are criminalised under of the Child Trafficking and Pornography Act 1998, as amended by Section 3 of the Criminal Law (Human Trafficking) Act 2008.
Finally, notwithstanding the significant strengthening of the law in the 2017 Act in relation to protecting children from sexual exploitation, I am keeping the need for further measures under close review. Indeed, I will shortly be bringing two sets of legislative proposals to Government relating to the sentencing of sex offenders and the post-release management of sex offenders, and I look forward to engaging with Deputies on these important issues.