Kathryn thought it was strange that Mitchell returned from his bike ride half an hour earlier than expected. Having been diagnosed with autism spectrum disorder as a young child, Mitchell required ongoing supervision. In the 2010s, Mitchell’s parents organised for the then 16-year-old to spend one afternoon a week with a carer from their local disability support service.
‘Everyone at the disability service in [regional New South Wales] told me that Mitchell really liked Harry, who would have been in his early 20s, so we agreed he could take Mitchell out for respite care. But when Harry came to pick him up, Mitchell had this look on his face of “Oh no”, and I could tell he didn’t like him at all.’
When Mitchell returned early from the bike ride with Harry, Kathryn said, he appeared distressed, and she later pressed Mitchell to find out why.
‘Mitchell communicates very well by typing, and he disclosed that Harry had been sexually abusing him in the toilets at the disability service, and showing him pornographic videos involving young boys.’
‘Harry said, “Here Mitchell, get a load of this!” It was a video on his phone. Then he tried to have some fun by feeling me for a while. Dreadful decision, he felt my penis. I did not know what to do.’
Kathryn believes Mitchell was 12 when Harry started sexually abusing him. She reported the abuse to police, and Harry was stood down from his job at the disability service.
A month later, Mitchell disclosed further sexual abuse at the hands of ‘men from church’.
‘Mitchell used text to communicate, and told me two ministers at our Christian fellowship church had been sexually molesting and raping him since he was 13. Our church was a large building and Mitchell would often go missing. My husband and I would be running around looking for him, and while we were running around, these two men had him in a room. They put a hood on his face, tied his hands with felt, and then attacked him during worship sessions while all these bands were playing. I tried those doors many times, but they were locked. I didn’t even think Mitchell could have been in there.’
Again, Kathryn said, police were notified but concluded prosecution would not be possible for either case, as an assessment found Mitchell to be severely autistic.
‘No action was taken against any of the men, the police have disempowered my son. He was violently assaulted and the Joint Investigation Response Team (JIRT) seemed to think, “Well he’s got a disability, no point doing anything, can’t get a conviction”, so they didn’t follow through the investigation.’
Kathryn feels JIRT’s approach to interviewing Mitchell weakened any hope of mounting a strong legal case.
‘Mitchell’s non-verbal. He can type, he can comprehend, but he needs time to build trust with people and tell his story, so really needed multiple interviews. The police did one.’
The family has applied for compensation on behalf of Mitchell, but are still waiting for a response. One of the ministers that Kathryn believes was involved in the sexual abuse of her son continues to work at another church in the area.
Mitchell attends school on a part-time basis, but still holds fear for the safety of his family following the abuse.
‘Mitchell thinks one of the ministers will come and shoot us, because they threatened to kill us if Mitchell told. He tells me he feels defeated, he calls himself “Mr no-hope for justice”. He’s angry that he’s written a statement 60 pages long, and it’s come to nothing.’