Pitcairn Island, one of the remotest communities in the world, is embroiled in another controversy involving underage sexual activity after its former mayor was found guilty of possessing more than 1,000 images and videos depicting child abuse — the eighth man out of a total male population of around 12 to be accused of sex crimes involving children.
Michael Warren, who served as mayor of the tiny South Pacific island from 2008 to 2013, could become the only inmate in the island's prison, after being handed a 20-month sentence by a court in New Zealand for charges stemming back as far as 2004.
That year, the island — which has a total population of around 50 — made international headlines after seven of its 12 men were accused of 55 sex crimes against underage girls as young as seven. Six were found guilty of crimes which stretched back more than 20 years.
Warren was working in child protection on the island throughout the period he was downloading the images, and traveling in an official capacity to both New Zealand and the United Kingdom for training in the field, reported the Guardian.
The images were reportedly found in Warren's possession in May 2010, after he accidentally sent an email to a diplomatic staff member from an address in someone else's name. That address was found to be linked to an online chat site containing explicit images.
Because of the remoteness of the island, which sits roughly halfway between New Zealand and Chile, and a series of legal challenges that saw Warren successfully resist facing justice in New Zealand, he was not formally charged until last month.
Warren initially defended his possession of the images by saying he was trying to better understand child pornography in the wake of the 2004 convictions, according to Radio New Zealand. His lawyer Tony Ellis subsequently argued the images found in Warren's possession were "comparatively moderate" when compared to other cases and taken in the context of an island community with limited adults where most of the women were in relationships, according to Radio New Zealand.
However, a New Zealand Police investigation found Warren had engaged in sexually explicit online activity with a girl he believed to be 15 years old at the time.
Along with three other volcanic islands, Pitcairn Island forms Britain's last remaining Pacific overseas territory. A treaty between New Zealand, Britain and Pitcairn allows for legal proceedings to be conducted in New Zealand, which also provides law enforcement assistance to the island.
It is not yet known whether Warren will serve his sentence as the only inmate at the island's prison facility, which was constructed in 2004 by the men found guilty of sex crimes against young girls.
Those charges resulted in sentences ranging from community service to six years' imprisonment for the defendants, who included then-Mayor Steve Christian and his son Randy. At the time of the trial, the court responsible said the sentences were relatively short in response to the special circumstances of the island. Ever since, the island has been attempting to rehabilitate its image in an effort to encourage the immigration it needs to maintain its population.
At their trial, the arrested men insisted sexual activity between grown men and young girls was a long-standing feature of life on the island, based on cultural traditions stemming from the Polynesians who had been some of the island's original settlers. A study of island records and anecdotal evidence found that most of the women on the island had their first child between the ages of 12 and 15.
In 2005, six other men who had left the island were found guilty of sex crimes against children after being tried in New Zealand.
Pitcairn was settled in 1790 by nine mutineers from the British naval ship HMS Bounty, who arrived on the island with a group of 18 Tahitians, including six men, 11 women, and a baby girl. The Pitcairn Islands chain — which includes the three other uninhabited islands of Henderson, Ducie, and Oeno, — became a British colony in 1838.
Image via Flickr