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Last Updated: Friday, 1 October, 2004, 04:50 GMT 05:50 UK
Rape a 'way of life' on Pitcairn
Landing jetty at Pitcairn (archive picture)
The only way to reach the island is by boat
Young girls on the tiny UK colony of Pitcairn were treated as sexual playthings and rape was a way of life on the island, a court has been told.

Seven male islanders, including mayor Steve Christian, are facing 55 charges of rape or indecent assault.

Dave Brown, the second to stand trial on the island, is accused of assaulting a series of girls as young as five.

Prosecutors told the court that he felt able to abuse his victims whenever he wanted.

Mr Brown, 49, is accused of assaulting girls over a period of 21 years from 1970.

In total, he faces 15 charges - two of gross indecency and 13 of indecent assault.

Video link

All the alleged victims are now off the island and are testifying to the court - a community hall in Adamstown, the island's solitary settlement - by video link from New Zealand.

"The girls are treated as though they are a sex thing," a former Pitcairn woman, who says she was raped four times as a young girl, told the court on Thursday.

"Men could do what they want with them," she said.

During one incident, Mr Brown is alleged to have indecently assaulted a girl aged about seven in the island's Seventh Day Adventist Church as her friend looked on.

Christine Gordon, prosecuting, told the court: "The charge demonstrates an attitude that pervades Mr Brown's offending: that young girls were available for him as and when he chose."

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

Further charges

But one witness wept as she told the trial, via video link from New Zealand, that as a young girl she was raped by Mr Christian four times.

In order to complete the seven trials in the shortest-possible time, they are being held concurrently, the three judges adjourning or reconvening hearings as they see fit.

The group of defendants make up half the island's adult male population.

A further six men from Pitcairn, who now live in Australia and New Zealand, are due to face court next year charged with 41 sex offences.

Local women have argued the practice is an island tradition and consensual, saying some of the alleged victims of abuse had been coerced into testifying.

'Consensual' sex

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.

Pitcairn has a resident population of 47, and the islanders make a living by selling handicrafts to passing boats along with fishing and subsistence farming.

The Pacific island was inhabited by mutineers who seized control of the British naval ship HMS Bounty in 1789.

The abuse charges stem from 1999 when an islander told a visiting British policewoman she had been sexually abused.

The court hears allegations girls were treated as sexual playthings

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