An Australian missionary arrested and charged with sexually abusing young girls has pleaded not guilty in a Solomon Islands magistrates court.
- Kevin Rietveld was the head of a Solomon Islands mission attached to the Christian Reformed Churches of Australia
- Complaints about Mr Rietveld were made when he left the mission in 2012, leading to an investigation
- The Australian is out on bail and is set to face trial in February 2020
Kevin Rietveld, 72, is facing nine counts of indecent assault on five girls under the age of 15.
He returned to Honiara, the capital of the South Pacific nation, to answer the charges following a lengthy investigation by local police and Australian authorities. He was arrested on June 24.
The alleged offences happened between 2010-2012 when Mr Rietveld was the head of the Supporting Work in Ministry (SWIM) — part of the Christian Reformed Churches of Australia — on the outskirts of Honiara.
The alleged victims were sponsored by the mission.
Police said investigations began when complaints were made following Mr Rietveld’s departure in 2012.
“Following thorough and comprehensive investigations and negotiations and extensive inquiries we carried though our law colleagues in Australia, it was eventually negotiated that the man return to Honiara on June 23 this year,” Police Commissioner Mathew Varley said.
Mr Rietveld’s trial has been set for February 2020.
He is currently on bail and has been barred from travelling to eastern Honiara where SWIM is located.
The case has shocked locals, with Mr Rietveld, who once wrote a regular column on Christianity in the national newspaper, the Solomon Star, well known in the community.
Yet Solomon Islands social workers have highlighted the need for greater awareness about services for young children affected by sexual violence.
Anika Kingmele, the chair of Family Support Centre, a Solomon Islands non-government organisation helping those affected by domestic and family violence, said while there were systems in place to support children affected by sexual violence, raising awareness was hard given “cultural norms”.
She added the Government needed to play a stronger role in providing support to young children who may be victims of sexual violence.