27 Sep 2022

Gloriavale women 'not downtrodden and subjugated', member says

8:15 pm on 27 September 2022
The Gloriavale religious commune

Purity Valor told the Employment Court she felt considered and respected by the community's leaders. Photo: RNZ / Tim Brown

Gloriavale's leaders did not know about sexual abuse at the Christian community, which has become an "entertainment show" for the country's media, a member says.

Mother-of-13 Purity Valor has told an Employment Court hearing Gloriavale was constantly being slandered, leaving members a target for public abuse.

"The accusations never seem to stop," she said.

"The media uses our religious freedom and personal choices as a nationwide entertainment show to belittle and degrade the simple Christian life that we have the right to live by the laws of this free country."

Purity Valor's daughter-in-law Pearl Valor is one of six former Gloriavale women seeking a ruling they were employees not volunteers during their time at Haupiri.

Under cross-examination from the women's barrister Brian Henry, Purity Valor conceded the unwanted publicity stemmed from a police investigation into sexual abuse at the commune, resulting in charges for both criminal and "unchristian" behaviour.

She told the court the leaders had a responsibility to keep everyone safe, but she did not believe they knew about the abuse.

"It was a surprise to all of us at the community and it was a surprise definitely to all the parents that were involved. It is not something that we agree with or condone," Purity Valor said.

"I don't believe the leadership knew all about that. I do believe that if they did, they would have made steps towards keeping us safe and talking to the police about the situation."

The court has previously heard evidence women and girls were always blamed for sexual misbehaviour at the commune.

The leadership never claimed one person should take the blame, she said.

"They have advised the girls on the way they should present themselves... to prevent that sort of thing happening to them or discourage it. No leader has ever said to me that the girl takes all the blame and the other party is blameless," she said.

When questioned whether girls were taught to be modest so as not to tempt men, Purity Valor said the Bible spoke about a woman having "downcast eyes".

"I interpret that in modern times to mean not to be flirty and outgoing," she said.

"We endeavour to keep ourselves pure before God as women and to live our lives the way that a Godly woman would live."

She brought up her girls to become softly spoken, caring and loving women who could stand up for what they believed.

She told the court Gloriavale's leaders had not imposed invented teachings on members for their own benefit and did not have total control over every detail of their lives.

"I do not accept that Hopeful Christian or any other leadership invented the teachings and doctrines in the booklet What We Believe to enforce on us subjugation to their own advantage," she said.

"The children my husband and I have together are a gift from God. No leader can force me to have children for them."

While she had a busy life looking after her family and managing the sewing room, Purity Valor rejected an assertion from Henry that she was "worked off her feet".

"Any mother with 13 children and 12 grandchildren would be extremely busy. To clothe the community of 600 people is a fairly large job, I agree with that, I don't agree with being run off my feet."

She told the court her family earned $3500 per month in family tax credits.

There had been big changes "by women to suit women" in Gloriavale's domestic realm and many held management positions, such as the Gloriavale Christian School principal, early childhood centre supervisors and midwives.

She said she had not been forced to do anything against her will.

"I think [the plaintiffs] have confused the concepts of submission and subjugation," she said.

"As a woman here I do not feel downtrodden and subjugated, but rather considered, respected and my opinions are valued.

"It is unfair to blame all results of the way things played out onto the leadership, past or present."

She also described the importance of unity at the commune.

"That is what our community intention is, to all live together, speak the same, think the same, live the same."

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