Pitcairn Island women do not live an idyllic South Pacific life, but one dominated by fear and sexual abuse which saw them raped as young girls by the island’s men, descendents of 18th century Bounty mutineers, a court has heard.
“The girls are treated as though they are a sex thing,” a former Pitcairn woman, who says she was raped four times as a young girl, told a court hearing the sex trial of seven island men, Australian newspapers reported on Friday.
“Men could do what they want with them,” said the unidentified woman via video from a New Zealand court to a court on Pitcairn on Wednesday. Pitcairn is east of the international dateline and a day behind New Zealand and Australia.
A group of eight former Pitcairn women, now living in New Zealand, will give evidence via video for the prosecution of half the adult men on the island.
A remote outcrop about halfway between New Zealand and Panama that is home to 47 people, Pitcairn has no safe harbour, is too rocky for an airstrip, has no paved roads, no sewage system and no landline telephones.
It is reached by flying to a remote Tahitian island, followed by a 36-hour boat ride. Travellers are ferried in longboats through the surf to a rocky cove.
The London government shipped in judges, police, a jail, court officials and a handful of reporters for the trial on the 2 sq mile outcrop.
Some islanders fear if the seven men are jailed it could force the closure of Pitcairn because the men operate the longboats that are the islanders’ lifeline to the outside world.
The seven, including Pitcairn mayor Steve Christian, 53, a descendent of Fletcher Christian who led the Bounty mutineers, face charges of rape and underage sex dating back 40 years.
Pitcairn men, and some island women, say they have a tradition of underage sex dating back to when the mutineers who rebelled against Captain William Bligh first landed in 1790.
British law forbids having sex with a girl under 16.
The trial on the island, the last British territory in the Pacific, is expected to last for about six weeks. The island lies 1,340 miles southeast of Tahiti’s capital.
Steve Christian is charged with raping the unidentified woman four times, once when she was 11 years of age, but has pleaded not guilty to rape, saying the sex was consensual.
He faces a total of six charges of rape and four charges of indecent assault on four women from 1964 to 1975.
Prosecutors told the court on Wednesday at the start of the trial that Christian was the “leader of the pack” on the island and believed he had a right to have sex with young girls. The prosecutor said Christian started raping girls when he was 15.
The unidentified woman he is accused of raping, the first to give evidence, said a history of sexual violence on the island made her afraid to resist Christian when he picked her up on his motorbike and took her to be raped under banyan trees and on a bed of banana leaves in a garden shed.
She said she was punished by her father with a “razor strop” for being late to church because Christian had raped her.
“I didn’t have any trust in anybody in authority on Pitcairn, nobody,” said the woman according to The Australian newspaper report from Pitcairn. “There was nobody on the island that we could turn to for anything.”
Among the accused men are Christian’s 30-year-old son Randy, his father-in-law, Len Brown, the oldest defendant at 78, and Brown’s son Dave, 49.
A courtroom has been erected inside the island’s small, timber community hall, with its peeling paint.