Wednesday, September 29, 2004

Pitcairn sex trial -- Women back their men

This is one extraordinary trial, in an extraordinary island, where some extraordinary group of 47 people live. This is an amazing story. Read the report.

Pitcairn Women Back Their Men Ahead of Sex Trial

Wed Sep 29, 8:14 AM ET

SYDNEY (Reuters) - A group of women on Pitcairn Island in the South Pacific are standing by their men, who face underage sex charges, saying having sex at age 12 is a tradition dating back to 18th century mutineers who settled on the island.
A handful of Pitcairn women have told reporters on the eve of a trial that sex with young pubescent girls is always consensual and that the sex charges against their men is an attempt by Britain to close their island, home to a few dozen people.

Seven men, half of Pitcairn's male population and descendants of 18th century mutineers who rebelled against Captain William Bligh aboard the Bounty, face a total of 96 sex charges, some dating back more than 40 years.

"I was 13 ... I felt like a big lady. I wanted it," Darralyn Griffiths, 26, told reporters on Tuesday on Pitcairn, which lies east of the international dateline and is the last British territory in the Pacific. She was quoted in The Australian newspaper on Wednesday.

But one Pitcairn mother, who wished to remain anonymous for fear of being ostracized, disagreed.

"The implication all girls are sexually active at 10 or 12 .. that's nonsense!" she told Television New Zealand in a report from Pitcairn, a rocky island of 5 square km (2 square miles) lying about halfway between New Zealand and Panama.

The seven men, including the mayor, are charged with having sex with underage girls. British law forbids having sex with a girl under 16. A group of eight former Pitcairn women, now living in New Zealand, will give evidence via video for the prosecution.

However, some of the island women who first gave evidence against the men have since withdrawn the charges, saying they were misled by police. Charlene Griffiths, 22 and a mother of four, is one of two women on the island who have withdrawn her charges.

She said she was offered victim's compensation if she gave evidence. "I was offered some good money for each person that I could name," she said.

The trial on Pitcairn, with a population of just 47, is due to start on Wednesday, Sept. 29, Pitcairn time. The British government has shipped in judges, police, a jail, court officials and reporters for the trial, which is expected to last for about six weeks.

Judges, wearing the traditional black robes of the British judicial system, declined comment as they walked toward the community hall on the island where the trial will be held.

Pitcairn islanders say they have a tradition dating back to Fletcher Christian and his mutineers, who had numerous Tahitian wives, whereby they had consensual sex with island girls. "It was just the way it was. It goes way back. It's been happening for generations," said Nadine Christian, 32.

Some Pitcairn women believe if the seven men, who comprise half the island's adult male population, are jailed then this could force the closure of Pitcairn. "The men who have been charged, they are all viable men, the ones who run the longboats," said Nadine Christian.

"Who is going to do that if they go to jail?" Pitcairn's longboats are the islanders' lifeline since no larger boats can reach Pitcairn through the surf and rocks that surround it.

Besides its remoteness, Pitcairn was chosen as a hideout by the mutineers because it is a rocky outcrop without a safe landing for ships. Supply ships must anchor offshore and wait for the ocean swells to subside for longboats to be launched from a rocky cove to pick up essential goods.

The charges against the Pitcairn men follow a report by a British police woman stationed on the island.

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