21 Nov 2023

Gloriavale man's alleged sex crimes detailed in court

9:00 pm on 21 November 2023
Jonathan Benjamin at Greymouth District Court.

Jonathan Benjamin. Photo: RNZ / Niva Chittock

Warning: This story contains details that may distress some readers.

A woman who accused a man of raping her at Gloriavale was told there was no way she would ever marry and was written off as a "whore" and a "slut", a Greymouth court has heard.

Jonathan Benjamin, 58, is on trial for 20 charges - including four of rape - during his time at the Christian community between 1986 and 2017. The charges also included indecent assault and sexual violation.

Crown lawyer Kerry White said some of the complainants were aged between six and 14 when they say they were attacked.

"The defendant began touching her under her clothes while she lay in the bed - her thighs, between her legs, inside her underwear and feeling her genital area," she said in her opening statements.

Some of the offending was alleged to have happened around other people, and in one case Benjamin's family, White said.

"On this occasion, however, he also put his hand under the blanket, pulled her dress up and touched her genital area. His wife and children were there and she did not want to make a fuss in front of them, as it would have embarrassed them all."

Another described Benjamin hugging her from behind and touching her breasts in a kitchen at age 11.

If other people in the Gloriavale community found out, White said the girls faced harsh backlash.

"She was told that there was no way in the world that she was going to get married. She was shouted at… Nobody asked her what had happened, why it happened, how it had happened. She was written off as a whore and a slut," she told the court, reading from one complainant's evidence.

Benjamin's defence lawyer, Stewart Sluis, began his opening remarks by saying his client had already pleaded guilty to a number of similar charges.

"He has acknowledged offending against young people at the Gloriavale community. You've heard about his pleas, because, and this will be a matter for you, it allows him the opportunity to be open and honest with you about his transgressions and wrongdoings."

But the jury must remember Benjamin was on trial for separate charges, Sluis said.

"It's quite disarming in some ways because he's very honest about his offending. And what he says about his guilty pleas is he did that, yes he did. But he didn't do these charges for which he's on trial."

Some of the accusations dated back almost 40 years, he said.

The Gloriavale compound on the West Coast.

Gloriavale. Photo: RNZ / Jean Edwards

"You may have some memories of your own that you've talked to other people about and you think, 'Oh, I've remembered that wrong', so memories are fallible. The way we remember things can be a little bit different, and certainly over time, memories fade."

Jurors must also put any feelings about Gloriavale to one side, because Benjamin was on trial, not the community, Sluis said.

The five complainants, police and other witnesses will give evidence to the District Court trial over the next three weeks.

Complainant police interviews and Benjamin's police interview were also scheduled to be played in court.

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