18 Mar 2024

Jonathan Benjamin sentenced to more than 11 years' jail for sexual offending against Gloriavale children

10:35 pm on 18 March 2024
Jonathan Benjamin

Jonathan Benjamin at his sentencing. Photo: Anna Sargent / RNZ

Victims of a sexual predator in the Gloriavale Christian community who has now been jailed have described him as an opportunist who used the vulnerability of his victims to exploit them.

Jonathan Benjamin was sentenced in the Greymouth District Court to 11 years and 10 months in prison for 26 charges of sexual offending against children - the youngest only five or six years old at the time.

His offending spanned more than three decades from the 1980s and his charges related to nine victims at the reclusive community during its time on the West Coast and earlier, when it was based in North Canterbury.

Virginia Courage was sexually violated by Jonathan Benjamin when she was a child in Gloriavale, and she waived her right to name suppression.

Courage told Judge Mark Callaghan she had relived her abuse in every moment of her life.

"I was a child, a frightened child, an alone child, a hurt child and a broken child. A child with no words. Please don't forget that child."

She told Benjamin she felt - and still feels - completely betrayed.

"You can't hide anymore. You're a predator, preying on the young, the innocent the vulnerable. The abuse on myself and others was deliberate, premeditated and devised," she said.

Another survivor broke down in tears in court, saying she had felt frustrated her whole life.

'I have PTSD from the abuse. In Gloriavale we were taught to put other people's needs before our own. We were taught our whole life to never say no," she said.

Courage said she was pleased with the sentence given, but was aggrieved at how long it took to get to that point.

"There's a part of me that has terrible sadness because why did it have to be 30 years later? And that just shows the incredible lack in Gloriavale and the lack that's actually still there because it's the same leadership group that were leaders when I was a child," she said.

Benjamin's lawyer Josh Lucas said Benjamin had a significant amount of remorse.

"He wants to come out of this sentence a new person, he wants to come out of the sentence rehabilitated, treated, received counselling, so that when he does get released he is not a danger to the community," he said.

Lucas described how Benjamin had had a rough time in prison; he said he had been assaulted and had been through a number of cellmates.

"Mr Benjamin essentially is a celebrity in prison, because not just of the offending, but of course through his connection through Gloriavale. That's going to haunt him- some people may say quite rightly- for the rest of his time in jail."

Judge Callaghan said reading the victim impact statements was sobering.

He said there was an age disparity, and significant power imbalance between Benjamin and his victims

"In respect of an aggravating feature is the power imbalance which males held over females at Gloriavale. This power imbalance gave Mr Benjamin not only the opportunity, but almost the right to offend as he did, with little or no consequence for his actions being taken into account within the community."

Benjamin was a member of Gloriavale until he was arrested in 2021.

A jury last year found him found guilty of 11 charges of sexual offending, and he previously admitted 15 similar charges.