Growing up on Pitcairn: 'We all thought sex was like food on table'

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The Independent Online

The women of Pitcairn Island are angry. They say the outside world has a skewed perception of how their tiny community functions. They believe their menfolk, seven of whom go on trial today on child sex abuse charges, are victims of a miscarriage of justice.

The women of Pitcairn Island are angry. They say the outside world has a skewed perception of how their tiny community functions. They believe their menfolk, seven of whom go on trial today on child sex abuse charges, are victims of a miscarriage of justice.

Yesterday they spoke at a rare public meeting attended by 13 women from three generations, almost 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 under-age sex that dated from the days when it was settled by Fletcher Christian and the Bounty mutineers.

Their voices cracked with emotion, but they did not present a picture of unity. Some stayed silent and appeared ill at ease. The most voluble included women closely related to the men facing 55 counts of rape, indecent assault and gross indecency against children aged as young as five. Six other islanders now living in Australia and New Zealand have been charged with similar offences.

The prosecution will paint a picture of an isolated community where child sex abuse was systematic and widespread. But the women said their girls matured young sexually, and no one on the island, a British dependency, had been raped. "Our men are being portrayed as hardened criminals," one said.

The meeting was at a large, airy house called Big Fence, home of Olive Christian. Mrs Christian, 48, whose husband, Steve, is mayor of Pitcairn, said of her girlhood: "We all thought sex was like food on the table."

Her daughter, Mrs Darralyn Griffiths, 28, said she started having sex at 13, "and I felt hot shit about it, too". Meralda Warren, 45, said her sex life began at 12. Nadine Christian, 32, said: "It was just the way it was. It goes way back. It's been happening for 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 said she complained to police about her daughter's relationship with an older married man, which began when she was 13.

Despite her own experience, Mrs Warren said she was 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 she could not believe any islander could have done that. Mrs Christian added: "There are no secrets on Pitcairn, I can tell you."

The women said the alleged victims in the criminal case had been browbeaten and bribed by investigators. Mrs Warren said her two daughters - Darralyn and 22-year-old Charlene - had retracted statements they had made years before. So had other women.

Charlene said detectives offered her money to testify, although she agreed they had been referring to compensation for victims of crime. She dropped the case against her alleged assailant, she said, because, "when I really thought about it, it was half and half ... I wanted it as bad as him".

Sources familiar with the case say some alleged victims withdrew after intense pressure from their families. "They were told they'd be thrown out of the house, their fathers would commit suicide, the whole island would fold," one source said.

Several women saw the case as a British plot to jail their able-bodied men and "close" the island. Meralda Warren said: "They've picked on all the young men, the backbone of this place." Pitcairn is reliant on its men to maintain roads and man the longboats. Mrs Christian said: "If you put the men in jail, you might as well pack the island up and throw it away."

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