Mitchell was a happy, extroverted boy raised in a Jehovah’s Witnesses family in the 1980s. The faith was a very strong presence in his family’s life in Victoria. ‘If you didn’t want to be part of it you would’ve been kicked out of home.’
When Mitchell was 10 years old his older brother Roger started sexually abusing him. The abuse, which included oral sex, continued for two years with his brother using opportunities such as school holidays to get Mitchell alone.
Mitchell didn’t tell anyone what was happening. He became quiet and withdrawn, pushing thoughts of the abuse to the back of his mind. He was an angry teenager, and started drinking heavily when he was 16 so he could cope with going to services. ‘I’d have to have three or four beers just to relax and go in there, because I hated going in there.’
When he was 18 he’d had enough. He left home. The note he left behind for his family said that he disassociated from the Church. He had to do it. ‘If I’d stayed I wouldn’t be here today’, he told the Commissioner.
Roger was nominated to bring Mitchell back and sought him out. The conversation they had was not what Roger was expecting. Mitchell asked what had happened all those years ago. ‘Did you do what I think you did?’ he asked.
Roger admitted that he did.
Mitchell then told his parents. His father took him to see Church elders at his brother’s congregation. They asked him what happened. Mitchell didn’t know any of them. Since his memory about the abuse was still just emerging, and because he was so upset, he could tell them only the basics.
They wanted to have a meeting with both brothers but Mitchell refused, saying he couldn’t do it. ‘If you brought him in here, I would jump over the table and bash him’, he told them.
The elders then met with Roger, who admitted what he’d done. But because the elders weren’t sure if Roger was baptised as a Jehovah’s Witness at the time of the abuse, they told Mitchell there was nothing further they could do. Roger couldn’t be ‘disfellowshipped’ or reproved.
Mitchell wasn’t surprised that they didn’t do anything. ‘Being brought up in the Church, you know what goes on … I knew there wouldn’t be anything else.’ An elder – one of the three – came to check on Mitchell once or twice but Mitchell wouldn’t see him.
His parents never told Mitchell they didn’t believe him but their only advice was: ‘Pray to God. He’ll set you straight’.
As for reporting to the police, the elders told him they’d never do that. ‘Everyone knows why … Don’t bring reproach on Jehovah’s name. Everyone in the Church knows that.’
Mitchell moved overseas for a while and he was much happier. But as soon as he moved back to Australia, his mental health deteriorated.
He started seeing psychiatrists and psychologists, and was prescribed various drugs, including treatments for schizophrenia and depression. For months he couldn’t leave the house. The depression and the mild hallucinations were too much.
His marriage didn’t survive this dark period. ‘It ended up being too much in the end.’ He stuck with the counselling and learned how badly affected he was, not just from the sexual abuse, but from his religious upbringing and the teachings of the Church.
‘The religion splits the family, even without the abuse, and that’s a whole other subject.’
The last few years have been much better for Mitchell. He’s a lot more stable and he’s now on the right kind of medication.
He’d wanted to report the sexual abuse for quite a while but didn’t have the strength to do it. When he saw that the Royal Commission was investigating Jehovah’s Witnesses, he thought, ‘If you’re gonna do it, now’s the time. Be crazy not to.’
Mitchell has now reported to the police and is happy with the way he was treated and how things are proceeding.
He told the Commissioner that access to good counselling and medication was vital for helping child sex abuse survivors. ‘It would help people in my situation tremendously to try and open up, and get over it, and talk about it.’