Pitcairn Islands 2

Pitcairn Islands

HMS Thetis visited Pitcairn Island on 18 April 1881 and “found the people very happy and contented, and in perfect health”. At that time the population was 96, an increase of six since the visit of Admiral de Horsey in September 1878. Stores had recently been delivered from friends in England, including two whale-boats and Portland cement, which was used to make the reservoir watertight. HMS Thetis gave the islanders 200 lb (91 kg) of biscuits, 100 lb (45 kg) of candles, and 100 lb of soap and clothing to the value of £31, donated by the ship’s company. An American trading ship called Venus had recently bestowed a supply of cotton seed, to provide the islanders with a crop for future trade.

Pitcairn Islands 3

Pitcairn islanders, 1916

In 1886, the Seventh-day Adventist layman John Tay visited Pitcairn and persuaded most of the islanders to accept his faith. He returned in 1890 on the missionary schooner Pitcairn with an ordained minister to perform baptisms. Since then, the majority of Pitcairn Islanders have been Adventists.

The islands of Henderson, Oeno and Ducie were annexed by Britain in 1902: Henderson on 1 July, Oeno on 10 July, and Ducie on 19 December. In 1938, the three islands, along with Pitcairn, were incorporated into a single administrative unit called the “Pitcairn Group of Islands”. The population peaked at 233 in 1937. It has since decreased owing to emigration, primarily to Australia and New Zealand.

Sexual misconduct in modern times:

Three cases of imprisonment for sex with underage girls were reported in the 1950s.

In 1999 Gail Cox, a police officer from KentUK, served on a temporary assignment on Pitcairn, and began uncovering allegations of sexual abuse. When a 15-year-old girl decided to press rape charges in 1999, criminal proceedings (code-named “Operation Unique”) were set in motion. The charges include 21 counts of rape, 41 of indecent assault, and 2 of gross indecency with a child under 14. Over the following two years, police officers in Australia, New Zealand, and the United Kingdom interviewed every woman who had lived on Pitcairn in the past 20 years, as well as all of the accused men. Pitcairn Public Prosecutor Simon Moore (an Auckland Crown Solicitor who was the first lawyer appointed to the position by the British government for the purposes of the investigation) held the file.

Australian Seventh-day Adventist pastor Neville Tosen, who spent two years on Pitcairn around the turn of the millennium, said that on his arrival, he had been taken aback by the conduct of the children. But he had not immediately realized what was happening. “I noticed worrying signs such as inexplicable mood swings,” he said. “It took me three months to realize they were being abused.” Tosen tried to bring the matter before the Island Council (the legislative body which doubles as the island’s court), but was rebuffed. One Councillor told him, “Look, the age of consent has always been twelve and it doesn’t hurt them.”

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Adamstown, the only settlement on the Islands

A study of island records confirmed anecdotal evidence that most girls bore their first child between the ages of 12 and 15. “I think the girls were conditioned to accept that it was a man’s world and once they turned 12, they were eligible,” Tosen said. Mothers and grandmothers were resigned to the situation, telling him that their own childhood experience had been the same; they regarded it as just a part of life on Pitcairn. One grandmother wondered what all the fuss was about. Tosen was convinced, however, that the early sexual experience was very damaging to the girls. “They can’t settle or form solid relationships. They did suffer, no doubt about it,” he said emphatically.

Sexual assault trials of 2004:

In 2004, charges were laid against seven men living on Pitcairn and six living abroad. This accounted for nearly a third of the male population. After extensive trials, most of the men were convicted, some with multiple counts of sexual encounters with children. On 25 October 2004, six men were convicted, including Steve Christian, the island’s mayor at the time. In 2004, the islanders had about 20 firearms among them, which they surrendered ahead of the sexual assault trials. After the six men lost their final appeal, the British government set up a prison on the island at Bob’s Valley. The men began serving their sentences in late 2006. By 2010, all had served their sentences or been granted home detention status.

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