Looking back on his childhood, Mitchell finds that memories of the sexual abuse eclipse almost everything else.
‘Where are my happy memories? Where’s my happy thoughts? Where’s my not-abuse? Where are those times that I can look back and say, “Life’s going to be okay because, remember, that was a good time”?’
Born in the early 1970s, Mitchell grew up on a farm in regional Victoria with his dad, older brother and stepmum. One day, when Mitchell was about six years old, a man he knew only as Peter dropped by for a visit. Peter was a minister or preacher of some kind. Mitchell suspects that he was Catholic but he’s not sure.
Mitchell and his brother were curious and neglected boys, rarely supervised by their parents. This appealed to Peter so he started visiting the farm regularly. On each occasion he would lecture Mitchell and his brother on the importance of cleanliness then get them to strip naked and show him how clean they were.
Soon Peter tried to push things further, encouraging the boys to sit alone with him inside an old caravan that was parked on the property. Mitchell’s brother, who was about 11 at the time, refused. Mitchell did not.
‘He’d sit me on his lap, and with this hand he’d be holding this big coloured book and with this hand he’d be doing his thing. And he’d always ask me, “Who’s your little friend?” … And no matter how hard I tried to pull his hand away he’d say, “Uh-uh. I won’t hurt him”.’
Mitchell believes his brother must have spoken up about what Peter was doing because one day Mitchell’s dad came striding up to the caravan and said to Peter, ‘I hope you’re not doing anything to my son’. Peter said something like, ‘Oh no, I wouldn’t do anything like that’, and Mitchell’s dad walked away, apparently satisfied.
‘And Peter went right back to what he was doing. And I thought, “I can’t do anything here” … I remember feeling powerless. “I’m screwed here”.’
From there the abuse moved to digital penetration and rape. During the first rape, Peter pushed Mitchell’s head down into a bucket of water.
‘I had begged him to stop. And what I remember, he was trying to drown me. That’s how I remember it, because he was pushing my face down into my little water tank. It was horrific.’
The abuse continued for about five years and then ended because Mitchell moved away. The move was prompted by Mitchell’s dad, who had just split up with his wife. He asked Mitchell where he wanted to live. Though Mitchell didn’t want to leave his dad, he saw this as the best opportunity to escape from Peter. He said that he’d like to go live with his biological mother.
Mitchell packed his bags and boarded the plane, full of excitement and relief. ‘I thought I was going to see a mum that would hug me and say it was going to be alright.’ But Mitchell’s mum turned out to be a violent alcoholic who physically and emotionally abused him.
‘Words are so important. What you say to a child is so important. And she finished me. I was gone. I was done. And from there I was just broken. I was gone. I died.’
A few years later Mitchell returned to live with his dad. It wasn’t the same. His dad had turned violent and emotionally distant. Mitchell felt like he had no home. By age 13 he had lost two mates to suicide and decided to try it himself. He put a gun in his mouth and pulled the trigger.
‘It didn’t go. But I remember in my mind it flashed, I’ll never forget: “What about tomorrow?”’
Sadly, Mitchell’s hope in tomorrow wasn’t enough to stave off the despair and he soon tried to kill himself again, this time by ingesting pills and part of a noxious plant. He lay on his bed and waited to fall asleep, picturing the moment when his family would find him.
‘They’d come in and they’d realise how much they love you, and you hear how much you’re going to be loved and they really did love you and people really did care and everything’s going to be alright. You don’t realise you’re about to drop dead completely. I didn’t want to die, I just didn’t want to be here anymore.’
No one came to check on Mitchell. He endured excruciating stomach pain but survived. In the aftermath, nobody asked him what had happened and he never mentioned it.
At age 15 Mitchell left the farm. By 17 he was heavily involved in the drug scene in Melbourne. After that he drifted around the country, supporting himself with petty crime. He married, had a family, then divorced.
For 30 years he never discussed the abuse in detail with anyone. The first time he mentioned it was just a few years ago to his dad and his dad’s new wife.
‘All I got was, “You can’t be throwing aspersions around about that man. You don’t know. How can you say that? You’ll end up in prison” … And my stepmother: “Well Mitchell, it can’t have happened”. And that is one of the one times in my life that I’ve stood up for myself against them and said, “You weren’t even there, Lisa. It happened. It happened to me”.’
Mitchell went on to tell his partner, who believed him immediately and has been supportive ever since. She helped him to set up some regular therapy sessions with a counsellor who specialises in the treatment of post-traumatic stress disorder.
As for Peter, he is now dead. ‘If he was alive’, said Mitchell, ‘I’d kill this guy’.