Gloriavale: Nine questions we can answer, and one we can't
Allegations of sexual assault, physical abuse and coercive treatment have swirled around the Gloriavale religious community for many years.
A government investigation into the West Coast religious group, released under the Official Information Act this week, offers insight into the allegations, reveals new details about the closed group, and hints that a sexual predator may be at large in the community.
WHAT IS GLORIAVALE?
Gloriavale is a Christian religious community of about 600 people on the West Coast of the South Island. It was first established in 1969 on land north of Christchurch by Neville Cooper. The community moved to the West Coast in the early 1990s. The religious group live according to a fundamentalist interpretation of the New Testament.
Gloriavale is based in an isolated area of the West Coast about 43 kilometres east of Greymouth. It attempts to be self sufficient and raises income through farming, aviation, private hunting, midwifery and even oil exploration.
The trust owns land worth about $10 million along with buildings, vehicles and equipment worth about $20 million.
Gloriavale members live within the confines of the West Coast base, sign over all their assets to the trust when they join, and work unpaid for the community. Any income that community members earn is donated to the trust to cover food, medical costs, clothing and laundry costs for the community.
In 1995, the group's founder, Neville Cooper, was convicted on three charges of indecent assault and sentenced to five years in prison. A complainant in the case gave evidence of being sexually assaulted by Cooper with a wooden penis-shaped object.
Cooper has changed his name to Hopeful Christian and is the "Overseeing Shepherd" of Gloriavale.
WHAT IS THE NEW REPORT?
In April 2015, former Gloriavale members spoke to New Zealand media and made allegations of physical and sexual abuse, separation of families and coercive treatment in the community.
Charities Services, which is the division of the Department of Internal Affairs that administers and monitors the Charities Act, decided to investigate as the allegations could breach the Act.
Once the investigation was under way in May 2015 "it had become apparent that there were numerous indications and allegations of potential criminal offending being disclosed to Charities Services' investigators", according to the final report completed in December.
This led to a 'joint agency approach' to the investigation involving police, the Ministry of Social Development (MSD), the Ministry of Education, and the Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment (MBIE).
The investigators referred information to relevant departments, for example allegations of long working hours were referred to the MBIE and criminal allegations were referred to police.
The Charities Services' investigation looked at financial statements from 2008 to 2015, interviewed eighteen former Gloriavale members, spoke to several people who helped former community members, and people who have stayed at Gloriavale or provided services for them.
The investigation also interviewed three Gloriavale trustees. Hopeful Christian declined a request to be interviewed.
WHAT ARE THE SERIOUS ALLEGATIONS?
The report concludes the Gloriavale trust "appear to have engaged in a pattern of actions mentioned in the act's definition of serious wrongdoing".
The allegations include:
1. Five women who left Gloriavale alleged they were victims of sexual assault.
2. Allegations that community members and women from outside the community had been sexually assault by the same alleged offender. Claims that Gloriavale leadership were aware of the allegations, blamed the victims and failed to take action.
3. Community members were "beaten and struck with objects by parents, teachers and elders". Four of these allegations were from people who had been beaten and struck themselves, according to the report.
4. Members were "compelled and coerced to work excessive hours" and given no choice over allocated jobs.
5. If leadership considered that someone had broken community rules they would be "summoned to a Servants and Shepherds meeting". The report stated that former female members alleged that the leadership in these meetings would refer to them as "sluts", "whores", and "being evil".
6. Bank accounts were set up in members' names without their consent or knowledge.
7. Members were coerced into signing a document that hands over all their assets to Gloriavale.
WHAT DO THE GLORIAVALE LEADERS SAY?
Trustee Fervent Stedfast said "people can make allegations, but it doesn't mean that they are true. I see no basis for them."
WHAT WILL HAPPEN IF MORE SEXUAL ASSAULT ALLEGATIONS ARE REPORTED?
Gloriavale will not notify police of sexual assault allegations, according to a policy document written in response to the Charities Services investigation.
The policy states that allegations will be investigated by the community. If the allegation is found to be true, the "involved parties" will be gathered together and warned not to "disobey the commandments of the bible" or break "the law of New Zealand".
The trustees will then seek to "bring the offender to genuine repentance for their trangression toward the person". They would also "bring the person who had been assaulted to genuine forgiveness towards the person who had assaulted them".
They would also "watch carefully afterwards and check up, that all such sexual assault has come to a complete end".
If the offending continued they would then ask the offender to leave and notify the police.
HAS GLORIAVALE DONE ANYTHING IN RESPONSE TO OTHER ALLEGATIONS?
Gloriavale leaders told the investigators the following steps had been taken.
1. The 'Servants and Shepherds meetings' had "often been very emotional" but they were changing how they are run.
2. A "clear message" was sent to members that "anti-smacking laws apply inside the community".
3. Ten couples who are parents within the community have completed a 10-week parenting course delivered by MSD that outlines anti-smacking laws.
4. Procedures around members signing over all their assets to Glorivale "need to be improved". "A lawyer will attend and explain to each person the legal and financial implications of signing the ... document."
WHY WASN'T GLORIAVALE DEREGISTERED AS A CHARITY?
The report concludes that trustees will rectify any wrongdoing under the Charities Act and that serious wrongdoing outside of the Charities Services' remit has been referred to other authorities.
The report stated that if the trust is kept on the register, Charities Services can further monitor and engage with Gloriavale.
WHAT ARE POLICE DOING?
A police investigation into the allegations is ongoing.
Acting Area Commander West Coast, Inspector Dan Mattison said in a statement that no charges have yet been laid.
Stedfast said: "We have no knowledge of what the police are doing. They are not indicating any concern. I don't know what the police conclusions are but they have not approached us except some years ago."
WHAT IS MSD DOING?
Child, Youth and Family deputy chief executive Murray Edridge said they worked with children from two families.
"Our primary concern is protecting the confidentiality of the children and families we work with. In this instance we worked with two families to ensure the on-going safety of the children."
IS THERE A SEXUAL PREDATOR IN GLORIAVALE?
This is unclear.
The Charities Services report states that multiple allegations of sexual assault were made against "the same offender".
Stedfast said: "I would like to state very definitely that there is no sexual predator in Gloriavale and there is no basis for that statement. I have lived here since the 1970s."