22 May 2023

Court hears ex-coach Stephen Mitchell gave wedding ring to child he sexually abused

| Travis Radford
Stephen Leonard Mitchell.

Former rock climbing coach Stephen Mitchell had his bail revoked and sentencing adjourned to 22 May 2023. Photo: Albert McKnight.

CONTENT WARNING: This story includes details of childhood sexual abuse.

A woman who was sexually abused as a child told a court her abuser had gifted her a “Russian wedding ring” when she was between 12 and 13 years old.

“You took my entire youth,” she told the ACT Supreme Court at Stephen Leonard Mitchell’s sentencing hearing on Friday, 19 May. “My mental health is under siege 24 hours a day.”

The former rock climbing coach sat with his eyes downturned as the woman recounted the several years of abuse she endured after meeting Mitchell when she was nine years old.

She told the court she was first sexually assaulted by Mitchell when she was 10 or 11. “I lay still and it changed me forever,” the woman said.

She described the abuse as a cloud over her life, which had haunted her and continued to affect her relationship with her partner and children.

“[But] my life isn’t a list of symptoms and sadness,” she told the court before addressing Mitchell directly. “I’m stronger than you. I’m smarter than you and for the first time, I’m more free than you.

“All the days ahead are mine.”

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The woman was one of six children the 57-year-old admitted abusing over a period of 14 years between the mid-1990s and late 2000s.

Another survivor of Mitchell’s child sexual abuse told the court she felt like a “soldier captured by the enemy”. She said the “shattered little girl” inside her who was abused by Mitchell remained “frozen and broken”.

“I’m not weak or broken [as an adult] but I’m forever injured and traumatised,” the woman said.

A third survivor said she had moved house about 20 times over fears she would be found by Mitchell. “I looked out my window and was terrified,” she said.

The woman described the period of her life since Mitchell’s abuse as time served. “Some days are crippling and I can’t get out of bed and move,” she said. “If anyone touches me, it physically hurts.”

Another victim impact statement read on behalf of a different woman said she lived with the “sickening knowledge” her sporting achievements allowed others to be lured in by Mitchell.

She said her sport, education, friends, family, innocence, health and childhood had been stolen by Mitchell and while she had regained some, others “have been lost to me forever”.

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Altogether eight victim impact statements were read out in court, five of which were from the women Mitchell sexually abused as children.

Mitchell’s defence barrister said Mitchell had ceased offending and working with children since 2008 and argued he was unlikely to re-offend and posed a low risk to the community. She also said Mitchell’s guilty plea had spared the “length, expense and distress” of a trial and that Mitchell had accepted responsibility and expressed remorse and insight into the harm his actions had caused.

However, Crown prosecutor Morgan Howe argued Mitchell only expressed remorse after becoming aware of the consequences and that the “length and nature” of his offending was serious.

Justice David Mossop revoked Mitchell’s bail, which Mitchell’s defence barrister did not oppose, and the sentencing was adjourned to Monday, 22 May 2023.

In November 2022, Mitchell plead guilty to two counts of maintaining a sexual relationship with a young person, one count of persistent sexual abuse of a child, two counts of committing acts of indecency on a child, a single count of committing an act of indecency on a child and one count of giving false or misleading information for an application.

If this story has raised any concerns for you, 1800RESPECT, the national 24-hour sexual assault, family and domestic violence counselling line, can be contacted on 1800 737 732. Help and support are also available through the Canberra Rape Crisis Centre on 02 6247 2525, the Domestic Violence Crisis Service ACT 02 6280 0900, Lifeline 13 11 14, the Suicide Call Back Service 1300 659 467 and Kids Helpline 1800 551 800. In an emergency, call triple zero.

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