Wed, Nov 17, 2004 - Page 5 News List

Author of `Thorn Birds' defends Pitcairn sex attacks

AP , SYDNEY

Best-selling author Colleen McCullough said six men found guilty of a string of sex attacks on Pitcairn Island were following a Polynesian custom of having sex with young girls and called their convictions "an absolute disgrace," a newspaper reported yesterday.

McCullough, the author of the 1977 international best seller The Thorn Birds, lives on Australia's Norfolk Island, a former penal colony that is home to a number of Pitcairn Island descendants.

Late last month, six Pitcairn men were convicted of rapes and sex attacks dating back as far as 40 years on the remote island, which is located midway between New Zealand and South America and is home to descendants of the Bounty mutineers and their Polynesian wives.

"They are as much Polynesian as anything else," McCullough told The Sydney Morning Herald newspaper. "It's Polynesian to break your girls in at 12."

McCullough said the UK-led rape trials were "an absolute disgrace" and should not have interfered with local customs.

"These are indigenous customs and should not be touched," she said. "It's hypocritical too. Does anybody object when Muslims follow their customs? Nobody's afraid of 50 Polynesians, but they are very afraid of a million Muslims," McCullough said.

But Karen Willis, a rape crisis counselor, said child rape is not an accepted practice in any culture.

"This is just one of those myths," she said. "It's not a cultural thing. It's about patriarchy and male power."

Willis said some societies do initiate children into sexual relations at a young age, but celebration and ritual are key.

"In Pitcairn it was done in secrecy, and that's one of the main differences between sexual assault and normal sexual relations," she said.

Children who experience sexual assault often develop depression, phobias, flashbacks and panic attacks as adults, Willis said.

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