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Living on an island . . . with a tradition of under-age sex

THE women of Pitcairn Island are angry. They believe that their menfolk, seven of whom go on trial today on child sex abuse charges, are victims of a miscarriage of justice.

They say the outside world has a skewed perception of how their tiny community functions. Yesterday they spoke out at a rare public meeting attended by 13 women from three generations: virtually the entire adult female population of Pitcairn. Their message was that the men had committed no crimes. The island, they said, had a tradition of underage sex that dated back to the days when it was settled by Fletcher Christian and the Bounty mutineers.

They spoke in raised voices that cracked with emotion. But they did not present a picture of unity. A number remained silent and appeared ill at ease. The most voluble included women closely related to the seven men facing 55 counts of rape, indecent assault and gross indecency against children as young as five.

The prosecution will paint a picture of an isolated community where child sex abuse was systematic and widespread. But the women claimed local girls matured sexually at a young age and nobody on the island, a British dependency, had ever been raped. "Our men are being portrayed as hardened criminals," said one.

The meeting was held at the home of Olive Christian, a large, airy house known locally as Big Fence. Mrs Christian (48) whose husband, Steve, is mayor of Pitcairn, recalled her younger days, saying: "We all thought sex was like food on the table." Darralyn Griffiths (28) said she started having sex at 13 "and I felt s**t hot about it too".

Meralda Warren (45) said her sex life began at 12. Nadine Christian (32) added: "It was just the way it was. It goes way back. It's been happening for generations and generations. You have to remember the kids here don't have any entertainment". But others hinted at cracks in this image of carefree sexual precocity.

Carol Warren (51) said a Pitcairn man tried to rape her when she was 10. She also told how she made a complaint to police about her daughter's relationship with an older married man, which began when she was 13.

Despite her own experience, Carol Warren is certain no girl on the island had ever had sex against her will. She said it was "sick" to have sex with a girl before she reached puberty, and didn't believe any islander could have done such a thing. Olive Christian agreed, saying: "There are no secrets on Pitcairn, I can tell you."

Yesterday, several women depicted the prosecution as a British plot to jail the community's able-bodied men and "close down" the island. Meralda Warren said: "They've picked on all the viable young men, the ones who are the backbone of this place." Pitcairn relies on men for communal work such as maintaining dirt roads and manning the island's longboats. Olive Christian added: "If you put the men in jail, you might as well pack the island up and throw it away." ( Independent News Service)

Kathy Marks
on Pitcairn Island


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