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Rape a 'way of life' on Pitcairn
October 1, 2004 2:22 AM   Subscribe

The legacy of the mutiny on the Bounty. Three cheers for the Empire!
posted by Pretty_Generic (34 comments total) 1 user marked this as a favorite

 
An awful story of abuse, for sure.

What's with the "three cheers for empire" bit?
posted by the cuban at 3:21 AM on October 1, 2004


On Wednesday the mayor of the island, Steve Christian, pleaded not guilty to sex abuse charges.

I'd say that's the Bounty legacy indeed, "Christian," a very old name on Pitcairn. I guess ol' Fletcher wasn't so bad though, his feeling for Maimiti, in large part, convinced him to take the ship. They were, unquestionably, the most monogamous couple on Pitcairn.

Jesus, though, white people sure know how to ruin an island.
posted by Shane at 3:23 AM on October 1, 2004


Sarcasm. It's what we British excel at, as opposed to regulating government in distant overseas territories.
posted by Pretty_Generic at 3:26 AM on October 1, 2004




white people sure know how to ruin an island

The inhabitants of Pitcairn are mixed White/Polynesian.
posted by the cuban at 3:35 AM on October 1, 2004


Yes, his point was that it was white people who colonised it.
posted by Pretty_Generic at 3:37 AM on October 1, 2004


So, what your saying is that the British Empire and White colonisation is to blame for child abuse?

Have a word with yourself.
posted by the cuban at 3:40 AM on October 1, 2004


OK, I'll try it.



After sombre discussion with myself, we've decided you're an idiot.
posted by Pretty_Generic at 3:49 AM on October 1, 2004


"Have a word with yourself." You probably have a point, the cuban. A discussion can certainly be had about the strength of correlation between a colony's imperial roots and its present political climate. I've heard the case made that Britain exerts more influence through the Commonwealth than at the height of the Empire. The problem is, with comments like that, points get lost, and the conversation becomes something else. I'd look a twat for taking that to MeTa but this is *exactly* how it starts.

On preview: see?
posted by nthdegx at 3:53 AM on October 1, 2004


"The defendants are expected to mount a defence based on a challenge to Britain's authority over the island.

They argue that although Pitcairn - as a British overseas territory - is theoretically subject to English law, consensual underage sex, involving girls aged 12 or 13, is a traditional part of island life."
posted by nthdegx at 4:24 AM on October 1, 2004


How was the British empire then or its stunted remnant now, responsible for the unique culture of Pitcairn Island? It was founded by way of a mutiny on a Royal Navy ship - ie self-evidently anti-imperial - and has received little or no interference since then. True, that isolation may have been the catalyst for a profoundly iniquitous sexual morality, but this possibility doesn't imply that external regulation - aka empire - is bad but instead suggests that more, not less intervention is required.

Is that what you meant with your sarcastic "Three cheers for the Empire"? A wish that the British would, for once, be efficient imperialists? I'd agree but it doesn't seem the obvious allusion given your link. For most readers, the BBC report suggests the opposite; that the British empire (in the form of New Zealand judges) is proving it's worth.
posted by pots at 4:42 AM on October 1, 2004


That's more like it! We'll have reasoned debate on this here vessel.
posted by Pretty_Generic at 4:48 AM on October 1, 2004


Such a tiny, inbred, isolated population is prone to all sorts of problems.
posted by orange swan at 4:52 AM on October 1, 2004


And I'd agree that more intervention would be required: that's exactly my point, that this culture of rape was left undiscovered for so long despite Pitcairn being a British colony in name. We essentially left it without law or government, and if we're going to have an "empire", we need to conduct it better!
posted by Pretty_Generic at 4:54 AM on October 1, 2004


The island has not been inhabited continuously since the first mutineers arrived. By order of British authorities, all of its inhabitants where moved to Tahiti for a brief spell in 1836 and then returned. When it became overcrowded in 1856, everyone was once again moved to Norfolk island. Some returned to Pitcairn again.

So maybe the empire is to blame for not educating its citizens well enough to conduct themselves appropriately at all times. But rather than being left to their own means, these fellows actually CHOSE to further isolate themselves (both Tahiti and Norfolk are quite remote). Given the extent of the problem (and the very telling shot at the consensual defense in a *child* abuse case), maybe now we can gain a better understanding of their reasons for it.
posted by magullo at 5:22 AM on October 1, 2004


How do the defendants resolve the slight paradox of questioning British authority over the islands in a British court?

And of more practical concern to the defence...

The New Zealand judges are unlikely to rule against British sovereignty because even if they were so inclined, they lack jurisdiction. Given this, isn't the proposed defence - specifically, the public admission of guilt regarding "consensual" sex with 12-13 year olds - so short-sighted as to suggest a form of blindness?
posted by pots at 5:29 AM on October 1, 2004


From the BBC: "At a public meeting on Pitcairn, female residents claimed it was customary for girls on the island to have sex as young as 12.

Some alleged victims of abuse had been coerced into testifying, they said...

...The wives, daughters, sisters and mothers of some of the accused have spoken out to declare the men's innocence.
They have insisted that while under-age sex was a traditional part of island life, it was consensual."

If (and it's a big if here) the above is remotely true, it raises questions about laws based on particular elements of Western European common morality being applied to people to whom they don't make cultural sense.
The arranged marriages of Greek gypsies, involving girls as young as 12 years old, are not legal theoretically . The uproar from the (already discriminated against) Greek gypsies - and the understandable cries of racism - if one tried to prosecute such cases would be huge...

Anyway, there exist countries across the world where 12 is the age of consent.
posted by talos at 6:03 AM on October 1, 2004


I had a friend who visited there for some time a while ago. They said it eventually became very creepy for them, not least because the very infrequent boat services to/from island meant that you were effectively trapped on Pitcairn, with your only source of information about the next boat being the islanders.
posted by carter at 6:03 AM on October 1, 2004


Jesus, though, white people sure know how to ruin an island.

Puh-lease.

White people quite happily spoil peninsulas, archipalagos and - given half a chance - the odd continent. Why you hate white peeps so much?
posted by dash_slot- at 7:10 AM on October 1, 2004


Okay, okay:

About all this 12- and 13-year-old stuff, some of the victims allege they were molested as early as five.

That's more like it! We'll have reasoned debate on this here vessel.

Don't tempt 'em, PG -- they'll mutiny!

How do the defendants resolve the slight paradox of questioning British authority over the islands in a British court?

The New Zealand judges are unlikely to rule against British sovereignty because even if they were so inclined, they lack jurisdiction.

...this culture of rape was left undiscovered for so long despite Pitcairn being a British colony in name.


So Britain is somewhat to blame, not to mention the fact that it was a British sea voyage that first brought white people to the island (although, of course, those white people were actually engaging in the admirable act of mutiny against their Captain, the Empire and Her Majesty.)
posted by Shane at 7:16 AM on October 1, 2004


"it was a British sea voyage that first brought white people to the island"

It's my understanding (and someone please correct me if I'm wrong) that the Bounty also brought the first non-white people to the island, as Pitcairn was uninhabited prior to the Bounty arriving, yes?
posted by mr_crash_davis at 7:26 AM on October 1, 2004


I hate to call double post on this, but we've talked about rape on Pitcairn before (also tangentially mentioned here).
posted by mcwetboy at 7:40 AM on October 1, 2004


Umm, children being molested is acceptable if its cultural? Is female genital mutilation ok because it's cultural? How about stoning women to death if they leave home unattended by a male, even a male child? Child slavery?

I say it's a crime, regardless. And obviously, many of the victims feel the same way.
posted by Red58 at 7:54 AM on October 1, 2004


From talos' link:
Dr Sarah Nelson, a researcher in child sexual abuse at Edinburgh University, said wide variations in the age of consent were too often accepted as the result of cultural and religious differences. She said: "There's a danger in being too respectful of cultural arguments.

"People say 'within our culture we do it this way or that way' but we know so much now about child abuse. These are arguments made by men who want to have sexual access to children."

She said the exact age of consent, whether 15, 16, or 17, would always be arbitrary but was designed to protect children from exploitation by more powerful adults.


(emphasis mine)
While I accept talos' argument that ignorant judgements and interference risk being racist, I struggle to see how this is a case of cultural imperialism. Doesn't the utter economic reliance of Pitcairn women on their men and the resulting male domination of island society imply that their protests might be compromised? That their opposition stems from being powerless victims themselves, victims who, unable to change things have made a post-facto accomodation with the realities of power in their culture? Even if that requires complicity in the abuse of their own daughters?

Furthermore, is it cynicism to question their testimony simply because these women will face poverty if half the island's breadwinners go to jail?

Tellingly, there is little to suggest from the publicised defence arguments that Pitcairn girls saying "No" are supported in their decision, even in theory. While this may derive from the fact that actually no one ever does say "No" surely this is an obvious defence to outsiders' accusations that the "underage" sex is coercive. Why aren't they making it? Conversely, if there isn't any support for those who dissent, is that a culture worthy of our sensitive, non-interfering respect?

I can't help feeling Pitcairn is a society, so dominated by men, that women are brought up unable to say no - there are simply no female role models suggesting even the possibility of choice, let alone making one. Is it really unjustified interference for this trial to suggest (indirectly) that young girls - wherever they are, whatever incidental culture they are born to - should have exposure to the idea of choice? And a confidence that they won't be stigmatized for it?

on preview:

mr_crash_davies: bottom of this link

posted by pots at 8:00 AM on October 1, 2004


pots: I don't disagree, that's why I qualified my question with a "big if"... however it might be wise if we should wait until some sort of final picture of what actually happenned emerges from the trial.
posted by talos at 8:21 AM on October 1, 2004


Shouldn't Ethereal Bligh be running this thread?
posted by eustacescrubb at 9:21 AM on October 1, 2004


Pitcairn is fascinating. For a quick outsider view, read Dea Burkett's article about living there. It's drawn from her book, an excellent read. I've got more info on Pitcairn in my blog.
posted by Nelson at 9:23 AM on October 1, 2004 [1 favorite]


Such a tiny, inbred, isolated population is prone to all sorts of problems.

That's why I left Maine.
posted by Mayor Curley at 9:31 AM on October 1, 2004


So, if variations in the age of consent due to culture shouldn't be tolerated (16?!? In my country it's 18! I don't care if it's cultural, you're sick!), doesn't that suggest that there should be a globally applied age of consent? Good luck with that.
posted by kaemaril at 10:15 AM on October 1, 2004


Are there any countries where M-F sex ia consensual only after 18? Er, other than countries where prohibition on pre-marital sex is total, that is...
posted by dash_slot- at 11:33 AM on October 1, 2004


It doesn't appear that the sex discussed in the post was consensual. Pretty clear it was forced. So age of consent is meaningless in this context.
posted by Red58 at 11:51 AM on October 1, 2004


That's true.
posted by dash_slot- at 12:10 PM on October 1, 2004


This is a trial. No one has been found guilty. There have been claims here in NZ that the complainants were both bribed and intimidated into making accusations by British investigators. Most of the comments above would be far more relevant after some convictions.

Having said that: bad, bad things can easily happen when 50 people live on a rock for a few hundred years. Every able-bodied person is critical to survival, as is group unity which makes it very hard to punish them effectively. If there ever was any historical romance here, it's long long gone.

My personal suspicion is that sex in early teens IS normal there; that there was awful abuse AS well; and that there was coercion in order to get testimony. In other words, it's all horribly true. I hope not though, which is why we should wait until the trial is over.
posted by i_am_joe's_spleen at 12:31 PM on October 1, 2004


...bad, bad things can easily happen when 50 people live on a rock for a few hundred years.

Immediate association: Dogville (great flick but site resizes browser window.)
posted by Shane at 1:04 PM on October 1, 2004


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