Far from Perfect by Trevor Plumbly
Mutiny and Management
Leaving aside countries beset by internal unrest and religious intolerance, there are places in this world I simply don’t want to visit and the Pitcairn Islands rank pretty high among them. The previously settled Polynesian islands were long abandoned until 1790 when they were chosen as the final destination for Fletcher Christian, his crew and six Tahitians, following the mutiny on HMS Bounty.
Pitcairn is one of those sad little bits of the old Empire Britain can’t or won’t get rid of. It has minimal commercial or strategic appeal; its principal benefit lies in tourism arising from the dubious distinction of involvement in a colourful chapter of British marine history. It takes its judicial code from the British system which in turn is largely administered by its nearest neighbour, New Zealand. Like most small isolated communities, minor breaches of the law are largely dealt with internally, without the need for formal, official involvement.
Management and Malpractice
Compared to a controlled legal system, self-regulation seems more efficient and suitable for smaller communities, but in the case of Pitcairn, isolation and unchecked human weakness opened it to appalling misuse. In 2004, thirteen men were convicted on a number of charges relating to sexual offences with underage girls; sad to say, these men weren’t anti-social thugs, they were accepted members of the island community. Even sadder, they regarded their actions as part of their culture, like a latter day ‘droit du seigneur’. Evidence suggests that the almost ritualistic abuse dated back at least to the 1950s. It’s difficult to guess how much of it was known and tolerated in the community, but taking into account that nearly one third of the adult male population were charged, the extent of the abuse and the unwillingness of some to testify does suggest tacit acceptance by an unhealthy number of residents.
Use and Abuse
The trial was held in Auckland in 2004 and all but one were found guilty; those convicted were returned to a specially created prison on the island. In what can only be described as paternal justice, some sentences were quickly reduced to home detention and the rest were released by 2010. Elsewhere, this sort of generational abuse would have attracted much harsher sentences, but it seems that justice had to be personally tailored to fit Pitcairn. I don’t really do serious stuff all that well, but there are good reasons for doing this piece. First, the sheer inevitability the victims must have felt, totally isolated from the benevolent guidance early teenage girls need, groomed for abuse by those they should have been able to trust for protection. Secondly, the recent report that yet another leading Pitcairn community figure has been found guilty of possessing hundreds of images of child pornography and will serve a light sentence on the island as soon as New Zealand can spare two prison officers to go there to supervise his detention. Deep seated ugliness, it seems, is still around on Pitcairn simply because those who could cure it continue to wait for a far flung justice system to intervene.