28 Mar 2017

'Ongoing risk' of sex abuse at Gloriavale - govt report

2:02 pm on 28 March 2017

A government inquiry has uncovered a litany of allegations of sexual and physical offending at Gloriavale, including that those living there are at an "ongoing risk" of being abused.

Mothers and children from the West Coast Christian community Gloriavale.

Mothers and children from the West Coast Christian community Gloriavale. Photo: TVNZ screenshot

The Department of Internal Affairs' Charities Commission launched an inquiry after allegations emerged in the media about potential criminal offending and financial irregularities in the isolated West Coast religious community.

Its report, released to Newsroom, contains allegations about sexual assaults, physical beatings, excessive working hours without pay, coerced marriage and "intense psychological pressure" for people to stay in the community.

Those who broke any rules, some as young as 13, interviewees alleged, were summoned to "Servants and Shepherds" meetings, where they were shouted at, insulted and referred to as "sluts", "whores" and "being evil".

It said former Gloriavale residents told investigators community members were sexually assaulted, "often by the same offender/s" and that those who lived there were "exposed to an ongoing risk of sexual assault".

They alleged the community's leadership was aware of the sex offending, but blamed the victims and failed to take any or sufficient action.

"Five female leavers have alleged that they were victims of sexual crimes... Two women from outside the community have also allegedly been victims of sexual assault by the same alleged offender from within the community."

"Two of the leavers provided information that some of the Trustees were aware and involved with dealings with the second victim," the report said.

Leavers told investigators Gloriavale members were physically punished, which the leadership both allowed and condoned. That included parents, teachers and elders beating members with objects. Four interviewees said they were beaten.

The report said the investigators referred the allegations to police. Investigators discussed them with the Gloriavale trustees - Fervent Steadfast, Enoch Upright and Howard Temple - who "acknowledged that they have a responsibility regarding physical and sexual assaults within the community".

The trustees said they would implement a policy on dealing with such allegations at Gloriavale, including that anyone who posed a "persistent threat" to others would be expelled and police informed.

Six investigators worked on the 18-month inquiry, from April 2015 to October 2016.

They interviewed 18 former Gloriavale members - three who left about 14-20 years ago, two who left about seven years ago and 13 who left in the last five years. They interviewed several others who stayed at Gloriavale as guests.

In a statement, police said its inquiry into allegations of offending at Gloriavale was ongoing, but it had not laid charges.

It said police and its partner organisations had built a "proactive relationship" with the community.

Financial irregularities, coerced marriage and "hutting" alleged

Nine of the leavers interviewed said they signed documents giving the community complete control of their financial affairs, including bank accounts, before they were 18. They alleged they were threatened with shunning if they did not sign.

Four said they had no idea Gloriavale set up and controlled accounts in their name and, after they left, money was withdrawn without permission. The report said bank records confirmed the allegations.

Former residents said members had no choice about their work. Women were confined to cleaning, food preparation, childcare and midwifery.

Leavers alleged those who told the leadership they wanted to leave were punished, including being detained in isolated and dilapidated huts without their consent, known as "hutting". Those who left were not allowed to contact family members still in the community, they said.

The trustees told investigators they no longer used huts, instead members took time to "reflect" in a farmstead building and a house. The trustees said allegations about coerced marriage were untrue, rather that the leadership advised members it was "God's will" for them to marry and it was up to the individual to proceed.

The investigators found Gloriavale's trust, and the people associated with it, "may have engaged in serious wrongdoing" under the Charities Act.

However, it allowed it to stay on the Charities Register, as that would allow Internal Affairs to monitor Gloriavale and because the trustees agreed to rectify financial wrongdoing.

Life at Gloriavale

According to the report, about 55 families - 550 to 600 people - live in Gloriavale. Each family has an average of eight children. Hopeful Christian (formerly Neville Cooper) is the community's spiritual leader.

The community aims to be self-sufficient. It makes money through farming, aviation, protein production, hunting, midwifery, energy production and oil exploration, the report said.

It has its own early childhood centres and school, which the Ministry of Education funds. It owns a freehold farm in the Haupiri Lake district, valued at about $10 million. Its buildings, vehicles and equipment are worth about $20m.

Community members work without direct payment or salary. Any income paid into their bank is donated to the trust or Gloriavale's accounts.

The leadership consists of 16 "Shepherds" and "Servants". Hopeful Christian is not on the trust board, called The Christian Church Community Trust, but can reappoint himself.

Each member of the community is expected to abide by a set of doctrines known as "What we believe", which is a strict interpretation of the Christian Bible as Gloriavale's leaders decide.

Read the full report here

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