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Pitcairn: Paradise Lost

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Kathy Marks was one of six media representatives chosen to attend the trials of multiple Pitcairn males charged with the rape and sexual abuse of young girls over a multi-decade period. As such, she had an unprecedented chance during her five week stay to live among the 47 people living there.

 

I think she did as good job as could be expected, though the book still leaves the reader thinking that she barely glimpsed the surface of what went on.

 

I won't bore you with a history lesson, just a geography one. Pitcairn is 3km by 2km and is the most inaccessible and remote inhabited place on earth (some places are more remote but are serviced by regular air or sea links.) Peru is close but New Zealand is considered the nearest major place, and Pitcairn is governed by its Governor General. It has no beaches or natural harbours and until recently anybody wishing to land there had to met at sea by the island's longboats.

 

In 1999, almost by chance, a serious sexual allegation was made and this widened into Operation Unique. Eventually seven men, about a third of the adult male population, stood accused of 55 charges, and six were convicted.

 

Nothing about the island or the trial is straightforward. Marks delves into the history, the power structure of the male-dominated island, the sociology of a small, cut-off society and mostly does a good job. Quite early on I thought she had decided which side she was on, a choice I think is vindicated when you read the testimonies of the victims.

 

It's a book from which few people come out looking good, and also leaves you with more questions, especially about the secretive islanders themselves.

Edit: It looks like this was published in the UK as "Trouble in Paradise: Uncovering the Dark Secrets of Britain's Most Remote Island"

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    • By nonsuch
      Marks, Kathy.  Trouble in Paradise
       
      This meticulously detailed account of Kathy Marks’s six weeks on the Pitcairn island in 2004 is as she says in her Prologue to the book ‘a cautionary tale.’  She first read about the investigation in 2000, when as Asia-Pacific Correspondent for The Independent she read about about the 13 men charged with 96 offences dating back to the 1960s.  She was accepted for membership of the media team reporting on the trials that followed, reporting ‘on one of the most bizarre court cases imaginable.’  The Pitcairners themselves were almost universally hostile to the enquiry, the offenders appealing to ‘every court up to the Privvy Council in London.’  It seemed that paedophilia, far from being a hated crime was almost a way of life for almost every man on the island, whose population was numbered at a maximum of 50 people, the island of roughly two square miles, not even having an airstrip, being over 3000 miles from New Zealand and Chile. 
       
      The book (nearly 400 pages) after relating stories of murder and mayhem on the island, ends on a vaguely optimistic note, for Kathy tells of her encounter with Isobel, an abused child who managed to flee from the ‘Paradise’ that to her was absolute hell.  Despite scores of appeals against their sentences the men were eventually convicted and imprisoned, but for Isobel ‘the jail out there, to me it feels like a mockery … that’s paradise, what they’re in, they’re laughing.’  But when told that as convicted rapists the men will never be able to enter New Zealand or Australia, Isobel beams and rejoices: ‘So they’re stuck on Pitcairn?  That’s brilliant.  That’s a real prison sentence for all of them.’
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