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Mitchel's story

Mitchel was born in the 1970s, and attended an Anglican school in Sydney where he was often a ‘subject of ridicule’. In his early teens, needing a way to ‘compensate’ and make his mark, he joined the cadets and met his unit’s commander, Peter Walsh, who quickly identified Mitchel as ‘his person of interest’.

Within months, this ‘significantly influential’ man started a ‘rollercoaster ride’ for Mitchell which saw him become ‘completely dependent’ on Walsh for his ‘emotional welfare’. Walsh subjected Mitchel to ‘constant lectures in trust’, and made him feel ‘a million dollars’ one minute and a ‘millimetre’ high the next.

‘Every time he made me cry or upset me … he'd then embrace me and say, "It's all right, mate. You're going to be all right. You know I really care about you and I want the best for you but … I'm going to have to harden you up a bit”.’ At that stage, Mitchel was ‘compliant’ because he didn't know what Walsh ‘was constructing’.

‘Pretty nasty’ and ‘ritualistic’ punishments soon followed, often over trivial matters. These involved a range of bought and homemade ‘implements’ that Walsh kept in his car. ‘It became very frequent’, Mitchel said with difficulty. ‘It involved me every time having to get naked and then put my nose on the ground, and there was a lecture around, "Do you trust me?”’ If Mitchel flinched or screamed, Walsh would hit him again.

During the beating, Mitchel became ‘numb’ and his ‘mind would go somewhere else’. Afterwards, Walsh would ‘embrace’ him and point out that he’d hit him less times than he’d deserved. Mitchel would thank him for his ‘leniency’.

Walsh created a ‘veil of secrecy around the relationship’. When he started picking Mitchel up on weekends, ostensibly to work in his business, Mitchel couldn’t tell his parents that Walsh was instead taking him to his secluded house.

‘He'd beat me, and then molest me for the day, and then take me home in the afternoon’, Mitchel said. ‘There were hundreds of incidents that occurred over the space of a couple of years.’

Walsh kept a stash of rifles and weapons in his house, boasted about his bomb-making knowledge, and ‘scared the shit out of’ Mitchel, screaming at people over small affronts.

‘So when he was telling me that if I ever said anything to my parents or to the police or to any of my friends, that he would kill me, and he'd kill my mum and my dad and my brother, I completely believed that he would do it.’

When his parents started asking questions, Mitchel just sat there. He believed that ‘if they even saw a flinch on my face about the truth … they may end up dead, and I couldn't have that happen. So I was very good at lying to them’.

Mitchel spent ‘every single minute’ fearing the next abusive episode, or ‘trying to construct ways of being able to let somebody know but without there being consequences’. He consequently ‘didn't concentrate much in class’, and started ‘inhaling butane and getting high’ on anything he could get his hands on. Natural ability enabled him to do well in the HSC, but his marks were not high enough to study for his preferred profession. ‘It's a miracle I actually made it to my HSC and didn't kill myself’, he said.

Meanwhile, the sexual abuse had ceased, but something like a ‘Stockholm syndrome’ ensued. ‘Even though I hated him and what he'd done, I just didn't know how to separate’, Mitchel said. ‘So I rented a room from him down in the house when I finished Year 12 and started working for him. Again, I was on the drugs big time by that stage.’

To escape Walsh, and to break with the people connected to his drug habit, Mitchel moved overseas. ‘I just couldn't stand being in Australia any longer.’

Once overseas, Mitchel stopped taking drugs, and established a solid career. He began to deal with his ‘self-grief’, but was plagued by ‘big dark bouts of depression’. An initial attempt to return home to try to have Walsh charged was impeded by his PTSD.

‘I knew that it was going to go the wrong way if I tried to stay in Australia. I wasn't prepared to talk to police at that stage, but that's when I first told my mother, my father and my brother about it, and it killed them.’

However, about 10 years ago, Mitchel said that the birth of his child ‘changed the world for me’.

‘When I had that level of responsibility, not just for her, but for children in general, I just went, "No way, this has got to stop. No, I've got to do something. I've got to be a man”. So I came back and I did it.’

Trying to get the right clinical and legal help drove Mitchel ‘crazy’. He was exponentially traumatised by a series of perfunctory or hostile police interviews, and shocked by the wall that went up when he sought support from his old school. He described himself as a ‘mess’.

However, when the police discovered that Walsh had abused Mitchel while on parole for paedophilia, and that he was due to stand trial for offences against other boys, they changed their approach. Mitchel was supported and well managed through the prosecution process, and Walsh went to jail for many years.

When Mitchel received an apology from the school that had failed him, he said that ‘it was like watching a child born ... I just fell apart in front of them. It was some form of validation … and so my interest in extracting cash from them at that point eroded quickly’.

Mitchel is now an advocate for victims of child sexual abuse.

‘I don't think they're necessarily murderers, paedophiles. I think it's a completely different crime. But I call it slow homicide because you've seen most of the people that have come in front of you are killing themselves slowly. So you [paedophiles] are taking a life.’

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