22 May 2023

Serial child sex abuser Stephen Mitchell sentenced to more than 13 years' jail

| Travis Radford
Stephen Mitchell walking to court

Former rock climbing coach Stephen Mitchell has been sentenced to 13 years and five months’ jail with a non-parole period of nine years. Photo: Albert McKnight.

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

A justice described Stephen Leonard Mitchell’s sexual abuse of six children more than 15 years ago as a “gross disparity of age and power” in his sentencing of the former rock climbing coach.

The 57-year-old slumped forward and looked directly at the justice when he was sentenced in the ACT Supreme Court on Monday (22 May) to 13 years and five months’ jail.

One of the women sexually abused as a child by Mitchell gave a statement outside court once he was sentenced. She thanked the other survivors, police, her family and friends, and the media.

“Achieving justice has been healing and I would go through this all again, but it has been difficult, too difficult,” she said.

“Truth has not been fully served.”

The woman said there were still many questions she felt needed to be answered, particularly around why nothing appeared to have been done at the time of the offending and how Mitchell managed to secure multiple jobs in the public service.

“A number of institutions gave him credibility. People willingly looked the other way,” she said.

The court heard Mitchell had been referred to police sometime during the period he was sexually abusing children from 1994 to 2008; however, no charges were laid.

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Mitchell sexually abused six girls aged between 10 and 15 for more than a decade when he held various positions which involved working with and coaching children in Canberra.

The first survivor of Mitchell’s sexual abuse was abused for a period of five years, from age 11 to 15. The court heard Mitchell gained the trust of the girl’s family, and she was allowed to sleep over at Mitchell’s home often several times a week. The woman previously told the court Mitchell gifted her a “Russian wedding ring” when she was between 12 and 13 years old.

The court heard Mitchell was “warned” about his “inappropriate” behaviour with the girl by his employer and, as a consequence, was terminated from his job in 1997.

Mitchell began similarly grooming and later sexually abusing five more female children involved in youth sports between 1997 and 2004. They were aged nine to 12 when he first met them.

Eight victim impact statements, including five from the women Mitchell sexually abused as children, were delivered in a previous hearing on Friday (19 May).

Survivors of Mitchell’s abuse spoke of its lasting impact and effect on others in their lives, while parents of the abused children disclosed their guilt.

“You took my entire youth,” one woman who was sexually abused by Mitchell said.

“My mental health is under siege 24 hours a day.”

Justice David Mossop described the statements as “difficult listening” and said Mitchell’s sentence provided “appropriate recognition of [the] extent of harm [caused]”.

The court heard Mitchell, who has been diagnosed with paedophilia, had expressed genuine remorse – “likely combined with regret”, according to Justice Mossop – and insight into the harm his actions had caused.

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Justice Mossop acknowledged Mitchell’s early guilty plea in November (2022) 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 and a single count of committing an act of indecency on a child, and also acknowledged that Mitchell had ceased offending in 2008.

However, Justice Mossop said while Mitchell may have moved on after he ceased offending, the survivors of his abuse had endured “decade-long impacts”.

He said these impacts, holding Mitchell to account and denouncing his actions were more important sentencing considerations than Mitchell’s prospective rehabilitation.

Justice Mossop also noted the age disparity between Mitchell and the children he abused, his abuse of his position of authority and the length of the abuse periods, which lasted up to five years.

Mitchell, who had been in custody since Friday, 19 May, was convicted and handed a non-parole period of nine years’ jail.

He’ll be eligible for release in May 2032.

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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