- The Washington Times - Sunday, October 13, 2002

SYDNEY, Australia The Pacific community of Pitcairn faces extinction because of sex-abuse charges against as many as 20 of the men among its population of 50.
A two-year investigation into the assertions has unearthed systematic sexual abuse of the island's girls by older men, some of whom, it has been said, regard the age of consent as 12.
The men are likely to be tried in Auckland, New Zealand, under British jurisdiction. If those facing charges were to be jailed 3,000 miles from home, the effect on the island, home to the descendants of the Bounty mutineers, would be devastating.
The trial cannot be held on Pitcairn, Britain's last independent territory in the South Seas, because it is so remote. It is halfway between Peru and New Zealand, and has no airstrip or harbor.
Supply ships visit a few times a year, and the islanders use traditional long boats powered by outboard motors to transfer cargo to the island. The sea passage from Auckland takes eight days.
New Zealand has been chosen as the location for the trial because of its traditional links with Pitcairn the British ambassador in Wellington, New Zealand, also acts as the island's governor.
The charges came to light three years ago, when a 15-year-old girl said she had been raped by a visiting New Zealander. The case was dealt with by islanders and the young man sent away, but it prompted other girls to come forward with accounts of sexual mistreatment.
Eighteen months ago, British police joined detectives from New Zealand to investigate the charges. The Auckland-based public prosecutor for Pitcairn, Simon Moore, refused to give details of the offenses or how many men are involved, but it is believed that charges will be brought against 10 to 20.
Many of the islanders want the trial to be held on Pitcairn, notwithstanding the severe logistical difficulties. In August, 14 of the island's 17 women petitioned New Zealand Prime Minister Helen Clark to have the case heard at home.
Pitcairn was settled by a band of British sailors in 1790 after they had mutinied the year before against Capt. William Bligh, the commander of the Bounty, which was on a mission to fetch breadfruit plants from Tahiti to help feed slaves on Britain's Caribbean possessions.
The mutineers, led by the master's mate, Fletcher Christian, brought with them Tahitian men and women, and established a renegade community that was only discovered 19 years later when an American sealing ship stumbled on the island.
In 1856, the entire population was transferred to Norfolk Island, a former penal colony off the east coast of Australia, but two years later 16 members of the population returned to Pitcairn. The population rose to a peak of 233 before World War II but has been declining since.


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