Where do I find out more about the effects of the Pitcairn trials on the community, seven years on
September 29, 2011 3:05 AM   Subscribe

If I want to find out more about the fallout from the Pitcairn rape trials, who should I contact? I have read the wikipedia entry on it, but I would ideally like to hear from people who were actually involved in the trial, or who are closely connected with the community, what the impact of it has been on the community.

I am not a journalist (and would prefer not to have to talk to any), but I do have a legitimate reason for this research - I'm not just prying out of curiosity.

The questions I want to find out the answers to are:

Did the convictions stop or at least lessen the frequency of sexual assaults on the island's girls?
What sort of negative impacts did the trials and aftermath have on the victims and innocent bystanders?
Do the women and girls involved think that it was worthwhile despite these negative effects?
Did the community feel like they had any sort of control of the process?
Are there lessons to be learned from this, and if a similar situation was going on elsewhere, should it be handled differently?

(I'm including these questions in case anyone here knows answers to any of them, but also so that you can get an idea of the sort of person I might need to talk to.)
posted by lollusc to Society & Culture (16 answers total) 8 users marked this as a favorite
You're doing original research.

Go to Pitcairn. If you have a reason that's legitimate enough to be worth bothering people, you have a reason that's legitimate enough to motivate you to buy that plane ticket. This isn't the sort of thing that's properly done by email or even by phone. In-person interviews are going to be basically required.
posted by valkyryn at 3:23 AM on September 29, 2011

Yeah, that's not really possible. Research is probably the wrong word for what I'm doing. This is not research in the sense that it will form any part of a publication or anything like that. It is not for public consumption.

And I need to figure this out sooner rather than later (i.e. weeks, not months, which is how long it would take to sort out a trip even if I had funding or time to do that).
posted by lollusc at 3:27 AM on September 29, 2011

This is not research in the sense that it will form any part of a publication or anything like that. It is not for public consumption.

Then, if you'll pardon the question... why is this any of your business? We're talking about prying into what for this community of about four dozen people is the most significant and traumatic event in living memory. And the results of your investigation aren't even for public consumption? I fail to see how this is adding up to a "legitimate reason".

What possible need could you have for this information? I mean, it's theoretically possible that someone in the government (contact info) would be willing to talk to you about this, but I can't think of a single reason why anyone else would want to.
posted by valkyryn at 3:44 AM on September 29, 2011 [1 favorite]

More than that, the people who could probably give you the most information almost certainly won't talk to you, i.e. the prosecutor, judge, and defense counsel. They're prevented by rules of professional ethics. And common decency, for that matter.

The case is actually still on appeal, with the defendants out on bail pending an appeal to the Privy Council. Commenting on active litigation is generally frowned upon. This case isn't even over, so some of the information you're looking for may not even exist yet.
posted by valkyryn at 3:46 AM on September 29, 2011

In any case, here's a fairly in-depth 2008 Vanity Fair article on the subject. I don't know if you'll get better information than that.
posted by valkyryn at 3:57 AM on September 29, 2011 [1 favorite]

Okay, look, I didn't want my reasons behind this to derail the question, but it seems that you feel you need to know, and maybe other people might too.

I have recently become aware, in the course of my actual academic research, of a community that parallels the Pitcairn case very closely. One woman has asked me to intervene. Others have suggested that any outside investigation would destroy the community and make matters worse for the victims. I have reported the situation to the most immediate authorities and they are not taking action. I am considering how best to proceed in the best interests of the women and girls at risk. The first thing I would like to do is better understand what actually happened on Pitcairn as a result of the trials, and what we can learn from this.

To some extent it is not my business, but I want to do what's right.

I really don't want this question to become a referendum on WHAT I should do, however. I have gone over and over this with friends, colleagues, supervisors, and I believe we have considered all the pros and cons. The conclusion we have all come to is that we don't know enough about how particular further actions might affect the community, and the Pitcairn example seems like it might be instructive here.

Please don't ask for information on which community this is. I don't want it to be identified here. Please take my word for it that it is extremely similar to Pitcairn in all respects.
posted by lollusc at 4:42 AM on September 29, 2011 [1 favorite]

I think you basically have absolutely buckley's of talking to anyone from the island, or still on the island. Less than buckley's, probably, and frankly I would be a bit reluctant to take legal lessons from a NZ situation, if it's going to be applied to an Australian situation (every case really is different) - aside from the moral implications of talking to people in a closed community that have been subjected to a media circus of outsiders recently and may even have PTSD, and despite your very best intentions coming across like a misery-porn tourist.

But, this all said, you may have more luck talking to other people involved case; police officers, legal counsels, etc. You're involved with a university right? Try looking up some papers and contacting any academics, legal or otherwise, involved. I wouldn't recommend it, though. I appreciate why you want to do it, but I think it's likely to fruitless, even if it is appropriate.
posted by smoke at 5:04 AM on September 29, 2011

I realize that you're trying to preserve privacy and focus on the Pitcairn case, but letting us know what you were doing really does help us help you, so thank you.

That being said: I'm not sure finding out what happened would really be all that illustrative for you, to be honest. The community you're in may resemble Pitcairn island in many respects; but I'm sure that in other respects, it's quite different. At the very least, the legal systems of Pitcairn Island and Australia differ quite broadly, I imagine, and so investigations into the outcome of the Pitcairn cases may run you up against things that wouldn't ever happen where you are anyway.

I realize that your research is more sociological than legal, but the specifics of Pitcairn are different even there, to the point that they may not be as helpful as you may imagine -- at least, not helpful enough to warrant this particular must-find-out-now urgency.

Instead: I'd suggest a review of another community that's similarly insular, if only because the data you seek may be easier to get to. The kinds of information you're after doesn't tend to come out until quite some time after such a case has ended (7 years may not be quite enough time, believe it or not), so the data also may simply not be there to be had right now for Pitcairn; but other studies in other communities may not only exist, but be easier to get to.

However: I'd speak to either the legal, womens' studies, or sociological departments at your local university (or all three, why not) to see if they know of a way to gain access to this kind of information about Pitcairn, or whether they could suggest another equally-as-similiar, but-more-accessible community for your studies. (I can't help but think that the Hasidic or Amish communities in the US may have had such a study in the past...I don't know of any personally, those ideas came from simply their being smaller and insular communities.)

Good luck.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 5:51 AM on September 29, 2011 [1 favorite]

A journalist Kathy Marks wrote a book about it that was featured on the Fresh Air radio show. I'd start by listening to that, then maybe read the book, then maybe email Marks and perhaps other journalists who covered the trial or aftermath. They spent more time interviewing people and forming conclusions than it sounds like you'll have time to. So talking to them may well give you a fuller picture than doing original interviews.
posted by salvia at 7:34 AM on September 29, 2011 [5 favorites]

The book: Paradise Lost, by Kathy Marks.
posted by alms at 8:16 AM on September 29, 2011 [1 favorite]

(I can't help but think that the Hasidic or Amish communities in the US may have had such a study in the past...I don't know of any personally, those ideas came from simply their being smaller and insular communities.)

Here's a link to a feature in the journal Legal Affairs about how the authorities (i.e., police forces and county prosecutors) in several U.S. states have allowed Amish bishops and ministers -- rather than outside law enforcement -- to police rape and incest in the community.

It's a very well-written but disheartening read. As the summary to the article reads, "But in some places, the group's ethic of forgive and forget has produced a plague of incest—and let many perpetrators go unpunished."
posted by virago at 10:34 AM on September 29, 2011 [1 favorite]

Thanks for your suggestions. To clarify, I was never thinking of speaking to anyone directly involved on the island (at most, as I said originally, someone "closely connected with the community" ie. with first hand knowledge). The reason I asked this question was that I couldn't see an obvious right answer: I know that legal people are probably ethically prevented from talking to me; journalists are going to want to pry into the situation I am connected with, if I mention it; and talking to people directly involved would be too invasive.

When I said, please assume that the situation is like Pitcairn in all respects, I really mean it. It is under NZ jurisdiction, not Australian.

I appreciate the suggestion to look at older cases, but I really don't know of any that are sufficiently similar. If anyone can point me in the direction of cases that fit the following parameters, I'd appreciate it:

- small community of around 50 people
- isolated from the rest of the world such that the islanders would have trouble building a new life off the island (no experience with things like banks, immigration, the wider school system, shops, etc)
- arrests/removal of more than one or two men might well mean the community can no longer function and everyone would have to be relocated
- some degree of uncertainty/disagreement about whose jurisdiction they belong to and should be tried in
- ongoing sexual abuse of even quite young children, with the excuse that 'it's our culture'
- at least some of the women and girls reluctant for the story to come out; others wanting it to.
- some sort of outside investigation takes place
- some information about the effects of this on the community is known

Up until the last two points these are features of both Pitcairn and the community I am involved with. You can probably see why it's the obvious comparison. But maybe it's true that there are other equally good analogies out there, and if so, it would be really helpful to know about them.
posted by lollusc at 12:58 AM on September 30, 2011

Again, I'm not sure that there isn't some other community that fits those descriptions (save the "island" part, but i"m not quite seeing the relevance of island life as a factor itself).

Again, I'd speak with someone in the sociology/anthropology department at a nearby university to see if they can suggest a similar type of community, and a similar source for that kind of information. I wonder if there've been cases in the Trobrianders in New Guinea? The Solomon Islands? Other indigenous tribes throughout the world?

I don't know of any specific examples offhand, but that's why I'm encouraging you to go to the anthropology department of a university -- they would know. Good luck.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 4:52 AM on September 30, 2011

Journalists are going to want to pry into the situation I am connected with, if I mention it.

Maybe, maybe not. Given the tenor of her book about Pitcairn, I don't think Kathy Marks would chase the story at the expense of the people involved.

In any case, I think she's your best bet on getting some perspective as well as introductions to more people who have thought about this stuff. It looks like she's still reporting from your part of the world. If you want to contact her, journalisted.com has her e-mail address.

Good luck!
posted by alms at 6:00 AM on September 30, 2011

Yeah, I'm actually IN the anthropology department of a university, and it's my colleagues and supervisors, some of whom who are anthropologists (I'm not, myself - my dept is a mixture) who are also at a loss about this. But that doesn't mean there aren't other analogous cases out there, of course. Just the people I've talked to don't seem to know about them.

Thanks for all your suggestions, people, anyway. I will read Kathy Marks's stuff and then consider contacting her if that leaves me with unanswered questions.
posted by lollusc at 1:50 PM on September 30, 2011

Yeah, I'm actually IN the anthropology department of a university, and it's my colleagues and supervisors, some of whom who are anthropologists (I'm not, myself - my dept is a mixture) who are also at a loss about this.

Huh. I'm honestly surprised by that. (Not doubting you, it's just not something I'd expected.)

Maybe the law department could suggest something, as this concerns a criminal case?
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 2:47 PM on September 30, 2011

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