SYDNEY, Oct. 25 -- Six men have been convicted on charges ranging from rape to indecent assault following trials that exposed a culture of sexual abuse on their small Pacific island, home to descendants of the 18th-century mutineers from the British ship HMS Bounty.
Among those convicted late Sunday was the mayor of Pitcairn Island, Steve Christian, who claims to be a direct descendant of mutiny leader Fletcher Christian. He was found guilty of five rapes but was cleared of four charges of indecent assault and one other rape.
Steve Christian, mayor of Pitcairn Island, was found guilty of five rapes in a trial involving charges dating back up to 40 years.
The verdicts were read by judges sent from New Zealand for the trials, which began Sept. 30 in a makeshift court in the island's community hall. Sentences were expected to be announced later this week, British authorities said Monday.
Islanders have expressed concern that if the men are imprisoned, there will be no one to crew a longboat that serves as the island's lifeline, transporting freight and passengers to and from ships that cannot dock along the rocky shore.
Seven men faced more than 50 sex abuse charges, some dating back 40 years. One man was acquitted, said Bryan Nicolson of the British High Commission in Wellington, New Zealand.
Prosecutors, building their case on the testimony of eight women, painted a picture of a male-dominated society in which underage sex was commonplace.
Some female residents of the island testified on behalf of the defendants, saying that while underage sex did occur, it was consensual and important to the island's survival. Pitcairn has a permanent population of just 47.
John Connell, a professor and expert on the South Pacific from the University of Sydney, predicted that if the men are incarcerated, they likely would be released temporarily when they are needed to crew the longboat.
Pitcairn, lying midway between Peru and New Zealand, has long fascinated the world as the refuge of men who mutinied aboard the Bounty and cast Capt. William Bligh adrift with his supporters in 1789.
The Pitcairn Islands are a group of five rocky volcanic outcroppings with a combined area of 18 square miles. Only the largest island is inhabited.