Sexual assault victims at the secretive religious Gloriavale sect are made to meet with their abuser and forgive them – without police being notified.

Gloriavale leaders then give offenders “second and third chances” to stop offending, along with more rounds of forgiveness and repentance meetings when they fail to stop, before leaders will consider kicking them out of the community.

Any offender expelled for sexual offending is told to contact police themselves. Gloriavale leaders would make a complaint to police if they did not.

This is the policy the Gloriavale Christian Community, a registered charity, proposed for dealing with sexual assault complaints, sent to its government watchdog Charities Services in January for “feedback”.

Published in Stuff

A concerned Charities Services sent the policy on to police, saying commonsense indicated it would result in further sexual offending. It asked police to help with a response on how to improve it.

Three weeks later a reply came from West Coast Area Commander Jacqui Corner, who said an investigator who had just returned from leave would “look into it”.

Stuff obtained Gloriavale’s policy, as well as the Charities Services and police responses, under the Official Information Act.

Making a formal sexual and physical assault policy was a requirement for Gloriavale to retain its charity status, following a 2015 investigation by Charities Services, which is part of the Department of Internal Affairs.

Victims advocates have called the policy dangerous. Police said it was a “matter for Gloriavale”. A senior Gloriavale leader said the policy was being “updated”.

In an email to senior Charities Services investigator Dave Sayers on January 14 this year, senior Gloriavale senior leader Fervent Stedfast said the trust had been considering its sexual assault and physical assaults policies. It appears the policies were created in 2017. Stedfast asked for feedback on whether they were acceptable “as they now stand”.

In Sayer’s email to Corner, which had the sex assault complaint policy attached, he expressed concern it gave people further chances to offend. He told Corner he thought the policy was “at odds” with her earlier indication she preferred the community to lay a police complaint as soon as possible.

Charities Services met with Gloriavale trustees on July 2.

Minutes from that meeting say Colin Smith, an independent trustee and West Coast lawyer, agreed the policy needed to be victim-centric and hoped to have it sent to the Charities Services soon. Smith “accepted responsibility” the updated policy was not ready.

Stedfast told Stuff on Friday the trust’s policy was “currently being updated” and replaced with a new policy, which was before the board.

Former Gloriavale member Melody Pilgrim said the culture of blaming sexual abuse victims in the community had to change.

“The emphasis is on the victim forgiving the abuser. If you’re a girl it’s your fault. The abuser is protected and the victim is silenced,” she told a meeting in Timaru on Thursday.

Sexual violence survivor advocate Louise Nicholas said Gloriavale’s policy amounted to keeping sexual assaults “in house”.

It allowed offenders to admit what they had done, apologise and continue to sexually assault potentially multiple victims. She was disappointed authorities knew the policy was in place since at least 2017.

“What harm has continued over that three-year period?”

The policy should be for leaders to report any sexual assault to police immediately, she said.

Gloriavale Leavers Support Trust general manager Liz Gregory said the sexual assault policy was “highly inappropriate” especially given the history of Gloriavale with “abuse and secrecy”.

Charities Services general manager Natasha Weight told Stuff Gloriavale had assured the regulator the trustees were “working to update” their policies. The agency would provide any support required.

Police area manager investigations Detective Senior Sergeant Kirsten Norton said the policy in question was “a matter for Gloriavale”.

“Regardless of any policy that may or may not be in place at Gloriavale we have and continue to encourage anyone who feels unsafe to report it to police immediately,” Norton said.

Police are currently investigating new allegations of child sexual abuse at Gloriavale.

Former members have previously spoken of forced marriages, sexual and physical abuse.

Gloriavale’s late founder, Hopeful Christian, spent time in prison in the mid 1990s after he was found guilty of three charges of indecently assaulting a woman at the Springbank Christian Community in North Canterbury.

A former senior Gloriavale member was sentenced to home detention last year for indecently assaulting and sexual violating a girl aged under 16.

A convicted child sex offender who sexually abused a drunk 15-year-old boy moved to Gloriavale and assumed a new identity.

Just Standfast, who was a teacher for many years at Gloriavale, indecently assaulted a 9-year-old girl and was sentenced last year to community detention and intensive supervision.

A Youth Court judge who recently ruled against a father wanting full custody of his daughters in Gloriavale said any arranged marriage would pose a question as to their sexual safety.

Gregory said: “We shouldn’t have forgiveness fully at the expense of justice.”

THE POLICY:

In its policy for dealing with complaints of sexual assault, the Gloriavale trust said it would investigate any allegations.

If it was concluded a sexual assault had occurred, the trust would gather the involved parties and “stress the seriousness” of disobeying the commandments of the bible and breaking the law.

The trustees would seek to bring the offender to “genuine repentance for their transgression” and the person who had been assaulted to “genuine forgiveness” towards the offender.

If the offender continued to sexually assault one or more people within the community, and would not stop doing so, the offender would have to leave the community.

The offender would then be told to go to police and confess. If they refused then the trustees would report them.

If the victim wished to, they would “be free” to contact police or another agency.

If the offender later came to “true repentance” and wanted to return to Gloriavale their request would get “due consideration”.

By Sam Sherwood and Joanne Carroll
Published in Stuff
22 August 2020