Child Sex Claims Haunt Remote Island

ByABC News
November 7, 2002, 12:58 PM

Nov. 14 -- It could be the ultimate whodunit. Fifty people live on the island, 12 may be suspected of engaging in child sex and the future of all is in jeopardy.

They are the descendants of the sailors of the Bounty the infamous British warship whose crew mutinied in 1789 and went ashore at Pitcairn Island in the South Pacific Ocean.

The last trial on the British protectorate was 105 years ago. Pitcairners are now dreading the prospect of another trial, which could tear the island community apart.

No charges have been filed yet, and the prosecutor has declined give details of the sex-abuse allegations. However, as many as 12 men reportedly are under suspicion. The prosecutor has said victims include toddlers as young as 3 as well as girls aged 7 and 10.

Like No Place on Earth

Pitcairn may be like no other place on Earth. The population is mostly made up of descendants of the Bounty mutineers and Polynesians who landed on the island a year later. Their national language is a mix of 18th-century English and Polynesian.

Located more than 3,000 miles east of New Zealand, Pitcairn is also extremely isolated. It takes at least eight days to get to the island from New Zealand by freighter. The island has no airport, and the surrounding waters are too choppy to land by seaplane. Pitcairn has only one satellite telephone, and the connection is often unreliable.

About three years ago, a British police officer visiting the island said she uncovered allegations of child sex there. Because of the difficulties in getting to Pitcairn Island, British authorities have proposed trying the suspects in New Zealand if charges are filed.

Residents are protesting though, because they fear a trial would necessarily involve the bulk of the island's population. The number of suspects is believed to be so large, they say, and the island's population is so small, that to remove them from the island for the minimum of two weeks required for the proceedings would collapse their fragile community.

"It puts everything we have including homes, lifestyle, etc., of risk that comes with abandonment," said Pitcairn Mayor Steve Christian by e-mail.

Christian said no one on the island had filed a complaint or asked for a trial. "We, the island, did not ask for this investigation," he said.

Pitcairners also resent what they see as interference by outsiders.

"People are very emotional here, as no one has cared about us at all," one Pitcairner woman wrote in an e-mail. She asked not to be identified.