Former Jehovah's Witness elder committed to stand trial accused of Sunshine Coast rapes, sexual abuse

Legal (CSA)
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(March 20, 2024 Wednesday). Former Jehovah's Witness elder committed to stand trial accused of Sunshine Coast rapes, sexual abuse. ABC Premium News (Australia).

A former Jehovah's Witness elder has been committed to stand trial for raping and sexually abusing young men on the Sunshine Coast over a 10-year period.

Police arrested 62-year-old Mooloolaba man Peter Mitchelson in August 2022 and charged him with more than 50 sexual offences, including 21 counts of rape that allegedly occurred at various locations on the Sunshine Coast and in Brisbane from 2008 to 2018.

The charges relate to five adult male complainants known to Mr Mitchelson through the Jehovah's Witness faith.

A committal hearing at Maroochydore today heard Mr Mitchelson allegedly used his seniority as a former congregation elder to coerce the younger men to perform sexual acts for his gratification.

Police said the acts were non-consensual and made the alleged victims feel "used, controlled, and lied to".

Mr Mitchelson was committed to stand trial in the District Court on 53 charges, while charges of incest and torture were dismissed due to a lack of evidence.

'Positive affirmations' allegedly escalated

The court heard the majority of alleged offending started with Mr Mitchelson advising alleged victims on how to use '"positive affirmations" to improve their confidence.

Police said initial meetings with Mr Mitchelson involved alleged victims standing in front of a mirror repeating the phrase: "I'm strong. I'm powerful. I'm confident".

They said this progressed to alleged victims repeating the phrase while naked and masturbating in front of Mr Mitchelson.

One man was allegedly told by Mr Mitchelson he would be "cleansed" of human papillomavirus (HPV) if he allowed Mr Mitchelson to penetrate him.

One man allegedly had non-consensual intercourse with Mr Mitchelson on a number of occasions while being filmed.

Mr Mitchelson's defence barrister Saul Holt KC argued videos tendered to the court show acts that were consensual and "enjoyed" by those participating.

Police describe 'insular' culture

Police prosecutor Sergeant Rebecca Lambert told the court the "insular" culture of the Jehovah's Witness community played a significant role in the alleged offending, and videos appearing to show consensual acts could not be viewed without this context.

Sergeant Lambert said men who had grown up in the faith had been taught to live in "constant fear of being disfellowshipped", which would forbid them from contacting any family or friends remaining in the church.

"It is a very insular environment, where the slightest discretion is treated by the church, not within the family unit," she said.

"Disfellowshipped from the church not only means losing religion, but it also means losing family and having no contacts or the people that knew [the alleged victims] and supported [them]."

The court heard Mr Mitchelson himself had been disfellowshipped since being charged, and no longer had contact with his daughters who had moved out of the family home along with their mother, who remained married to the accused.

Mr Mitchelson to face further charges

Magistrate Chris Callaghan committed Mr Mitchelson to stand trial separately on a further five charges for alleged offences committed early last year, including attempting to pervert the course of justice by interfering with witnesses.

Mr Mitchelson was on Supreme Court bail for the initial rape and sexual abuse charges at the time of these alleged offences, and was taken back into custody in September.

Magistrate Callaghan refused an application for bail on the newer charges, today finding Mr Holt had not established that his client did not present an unacceptable risk of interfering with witnesses — even with strict bail conditions.

Mr Mitchelson was remanded in custody to return to court on a charge of possessing a schedule four medicine — the erectile dysfunction drug Sildenafil — in September.

In handing down the decision, Magistrate Callaghan commented that Mr Mitchelson was "a very manipulative person".

District Court trial dates will be determined by the Department of Public Prosecutions.

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