2 Sep 2022

Former Gloriavale woman: 'Were they trying to work us to death?'

9:28 pm on 2 September 2022
Gloriavale Christian Community

Gloriavale Christian Community (file picture). Photo: Google Maps

A former Gloriavale woman has told a court the Christian community is not a safe place for children.

Virginia Courage broke down describing how her teenage daughter was sent out of the country by Gloriavale's leaders against her will.

Courage was born into Gloriavale but left with her family in 2019, partly because she believed the community was straying from the Christian faith.

Her eldest daughter Anna was also treated horribly and was deeply unhappy, she said.

Anna Courage wanted her to live with her brother, 30 kilometres away, but Gloriavale's leaders instead sent her to her grandparents in Australia.

"All of a sudden, it changed from having our daughter go somewhere close for a few weeks at 10pm to midnight that same night, her father was driving her off to Christchurch with a fare to Australia."

By 10am, Anna was in Australia, leaving her distraught mother behind.

"I was over 20 weeks pregnant with my tenth kid, I was still throwing up with morning sickness. I just thought 'I want to die, I want to die'," she recalled.

Anna Courage eventually returned to New Zealand, and along with her mother and four others, is seeking an Employment Court ruling that they were Gloriavale employees.

Gloriavale's women were perpetually exhausted, and at one point in 2016 the girls and women worked almost every night for six months, Virginia Courage said.

"Often these people have a young baby or were pregnant too and those factors aren't even considered. I remember getting to the end of that year and thinking, 'are they trying to work us to death?'"

She told the court volunteers do not exist at Gloriavale and women worked in disgraceful conditions, likening them to a labour camp.

There was also no food allocated for babies under 12 months, who instead ate from their mother's share, and women were separated from them while they worked, Courage explained.

She once heard her 13-month-old daughter screaming while she was at work, because her primary school-age sisters forgot to check on her.

It also was not safe to be around certain men when she was a young girl.

"They referred to it as a holy kiss and cuddle. It's supposed to be at Sunday meeting in front of everyone, but it became part of the culture that any man could approach primary, high school girls and demand a cuddle at any time."

Later a leader publicly stated women were not to make a fuss if they were being raped, Courage said.

She told the court Gloriavale never properly dealt with sexual abuse and did not have a plan to prevent sex offending when she left three years ago.

"I do not believe that they practice the Christian faith in accordance with the scripture. They do not provide a safe environment for children and families."

Courage concluded she now has a fabulous life without working her fingers to the bone, and was recently able to take a four-week vacation with her family.

Gloriavale's leaders strongly contest the women's claims and deny they were ever employees.

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