6 Oct 2020

'These people are voiceless, we're here to be a voice' - ex-Gloriavale member urges inquiry

From Checkpoint, 6:16 pm on 6 October 2020

Former Gloriavale members are picketing the Election 2020 leaders debate in Christchurch, urging the prime minister to launch an inquiry into the secretive religious sect on the South Island's West Coast.

Former Gloriavale resident Hannah Harrison

Former Gloriavale resident Hannah Harrison Photo: RNZ/ Nathan Mckinnon

They say they are frustrated by what they believe is a lack of action from any government agency in response to claims by former residents of abuse, exploitation, poor education and health services.

"There is so much wrong with that place. It is so despicable to me to think you wouldn't think it needed an investigation," former Gloriavale resident Hannah Harrison told Checkpoint.

"We just really want there to be an independent inquiry into Gloriavale, into the way people are employed, into the physical, mental, social and emotional abuse that goes on there consistently.

"You're basically a slave within the community.

"It's got to the point where so many of us have spoken out since we've left, but nothing changes and nothing happens. We're really here tonight to stand up and say something needs to happen, it's not good enough that every agency is saying, 'That's not our problem'. It's someone's problem. These people are citizens in our country.

"For a lot of us they're our family, and they're being treated like slaves."

Workplace Relations Minister Andrew Little said WorkSafe continued to proactively assess how Gloriavale was managing its health and safety obligations.

But Harrison said a big problem is that Gloriavale members do not actually believe they are being manipulated.

"As long as I can remember as a child when WorkSafe came in, when the police came in, when anyone came in, they would put their best face forward, they would say, 'Kids you don’t have to come to work today, hide out in the back room until after the inspectors have come through.'

"And every time the police talk to someone it's who the leaders want them to talk to. Every time TV talk to someone it's who the leaders want them to talk to.

"So really the police, Oranga Tamariki, they're only seeing what the leaders want them to see."

Children join a protest calling for a government inquiry into Gloriavale

Children join a protest calling for a government inquiry into Gloriavale Photo: RNZ/ Nathan Mckinnon

Hannah Harrison spent the first 20 years of her life at Gloriavale. She told Checkpoint she started working at 15 years old.

"Probably one of the hardest years of my life. You don't get to choose what kind of work you do… they don't get to choose their hours… they don't have any say at all as to what they do.

"And you're working gruelling hours, sometimes from four in the morning until eight at night with maybe one break in between – that's about 10 minutes."

She said she considers it slavery.

"You're forced to work, without pay and without reward for your work, which is then slavery."

She has a memory of working at about 12 years old, and being told inspectors would be coming.

"At two o'clock we would leave and go away while the inspectors were there because it was illegal to have under-age people working in there, and we would come back after they left.

"That's common practice at Gloriavale and I'm sure anyone that's left would say the same thing."

 Harrison said education in Gloriavale is very gender-based. As a child she wanted to study woodwork but was not allowed to as it was considered "a boys' thing to do".

"Even up in the senior years there's actually no choice on what sort of thing you get to study in school."

She said anyone who thinks life at Gloriavale is the choice of those who stay there is misinformed.

"For the last 50 years everyone that is in there was born in there. Their parents were born in there. So for those minors, their parents' choosing means nothing because those parents have never had the choice in the first place.

"That is not religious freedom. That is not what religious freedom's about. That's religious slavery.

"That's a bunch of 16 men holding 500 other people up to their standard, and they decide whether they're going to heaven or hell. That is not religious freedom."

Harrison was with ex-Gloriavale members outside the election debate between Jacinda Ardern and Judith Collins in Christchurch. Her message for Ardern was: "Open your eyes.

"There are people suffering in there. There are people without the medical care they need, there are people working far too long.

"There is so much wrong with that place. It is so despicable to me to think you wouldn't think it needed an investigation.

"Be kind. These are vulnerable people that need your help. And that's why we're here, to really show that these people are voiceless, and we're here to be a voice for those voiceless people.

"I have a lot of family in there still. Both sets of my grandparents are in there. All my grandparents are over 65, they're still working full-time. I'm not convinced they're getting the medical care they need in there. In fact I know they're not.

"And the worst thing is the fear that holds every person in there in slavery. The fear of going to hell, the fear of leaving, the fear of the outside world.

"That's how the leaders control them, they control them by that fear and I feel like if we could give them the social freedoms the rest of us enjoy and take for granted, then soon their eyes would be open and they would see that there's so much more to life than what's in those walls of Gloriavale."

Hannah Harrison also had a message for her grandparents: "I love you, I miss you. No matter where I go, I'm still going to love you, even if you don't agree with the choices I've made. I believe they were the right choices.

"Open your eyes, look around you, look at what the fruit of that place is."