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Peter James's story

Peter was born in the late 1970s to a young mother who was unable to care for him. She put him into foster care when he was five years old, and Peter spent the next few years being shunted from one foster home to the next. The reason for this, he said, was because he was a difficult child. He experienced learning difficulties and was hyperactive and disruptive.

In his early teens, Peter was sent to a town in New South Wales to live with foster parents Janine and Kevin Harper. The Harpers were members of a local Pentecostal church, and Peter soon became a member too. Though he was not a strong believer he enjoyed many of the church activities.

One Friday night after church youth group, Peter was approached by the head minister of the church, Pastor Aronsen. Aronsen invited Peter back to his house. Though the pastor was married with children, his family were not at the house when he and Peter arrived.

Pastor Aronsen sexually abused Peter that night and continued to do so on many occasions over the next few years. The abuse began with touching and later included penetrative sex. It also took on a ritualistic quality. Aronsen would light candles and chant to chase away evil spirits. He referred to Peter as his special son and told him that the church was okay with this kind of activity.

At around this time, Peter was also being abused by a male bus driver and his female helper, who were both connected with Peter’s church. The driver used to give him hugs which involved inappropriate touching, and the helper used to touch him and tell him he was sexy. Peter did not report this abuse to anyone.

He did, however, report Pastor Aronsen. Peter was about 14 at the time. The national head of the Church had apparently received some complaints about Pastor Aronsen. He paid a visit to Peter’s church and asked about Aronsen’s behaviour. Peter told him about the abuse.

Later, Peter was present at a meeting where the head of the Church put the allegations to Aronsen who denied them. Aronsen didn’t seem to care, Peter said. Earlier, Aronsen had told Peter that no one would believe him. He was right. The head of the Church left and did not return, and the abuse continued.

After this experience, Peter decided that there was no point reporting the abuse to police or anyone else.

The abuse from Aronsen diminished as Peter entered his late teens. Peter believes this was because as he got older, Aronsen found him less attractive. Still, the abuse continued off and on into Peter’s early adulthood then stopped when Aronsen fell ill. The abuse from the driver and his helper also stopped in Peter’s early adulthood.

By this stage Peter had been profoundly damaged by the abuse. Though once outgoing and energetic, he was now confused and withdrawn. He had difficulty making friends and felt that he could not get close to anyone. He lost his trust in people. At 16 he had been diagnosed with bipolar disorder and attention deficit disorder. He had been prescribed medication for the bipolar condition but the Church did not believe in taking medication so Peter’s condition went untreated.

Over a 12-month period during Peter’s early adulthood he committed several grooming offences relating to underage boys. He was not caught at that time but stopped the grooming because, he said, it wasn’t doing anything for him.

A decade or so later, the Church received some damning publicity. Several people had gone public with allegations of sexual abuse and corruption within it. Peter said that the Church reacted defensively.

When Pastor Aronsen was charged (with offences unrelated to Peter), they labelled the investigation a witch hunt. They said the same thing when Peter was charged for the grooming offences.

Church authorities told Peter that they were not answerable to man-made rules. Disregarding Peter’s bail conditions, they set him up in a home where children were present. Peter soon found himself back in custody, charged with more grooming offences.

Peter said that when he was first charged he did not mention that he’d been a victim of child sexual abuse. But having received some counselling in jail, he now acknowledges the link between his own abuse and his conduct towards young boys. He has told his current lawyer about the abuse and hopes that this will be taken into account when he is sentenced. Peter has been convicted of several grooming offences and will be pleading guilty to the remaining charges.

Peter plans to cut all ties with the Church. He is currently receiving regular psychological support and is on medication for his bipolar disorder.

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