Sexual assault victim felt silenced and shamed in sect: 'I had only ever known fear'

RNZ, New Zealand/May 23, 2024

By Amy Williams

A woman who was a victim of sexual violence as a child and teenager has spoken for the first time of the abuse - and how the secretive sect she was raised in turned a blind eye and later condoned her husband's affairs.

The FBI is working with international law enforcement partners to investigate abuse within the group known as the 'Two by Twos' or 'The Truth', and police in New Zealand are investigating at least one former minister for historical abuse.

Former insiders have described the control the closed Christian group has over its members, with many unwritten rules and a belief it is the only true church, and that those who leave are destined for hell.

The sect has no official name or church building, and its itinerant ministers travel in same-sex pairs, staying in members' homes.

Grace - not her real name - was subjected to years of sexual violence both in her home and the wider church when she was a child living overseas.

"By the age of 10, there wasn't a single room in my house that was safe for me. I had only ever known fear - and needing to always be hypervigilant in trying to escape the inevitable."

She remained in the same religious group when she came to New Zealand, attending meetings in people's homes

Grace described how her subsequent marriage to a man who had grown up in the Two by Twos became psychologically abusive - he often mocked the mental health impacts of her trauma - and he had affairs, which she eventually disclosed to one of the sect's top leaders at the time.

"He spent a little bit of time with my husband and then spoke to me... and said that they'd had a discussion, but I needed to understand that men have needs and that was what was driving this behaviour and therefore I shouldn't be treating it with the kind of concern that I was."

Grace said she was made to feel like it was her fault.

"Absolutely gobsmacked, I could not believe that someone in such a senior position, who spoke from the platform consistently about the kind of people that we are required to be...would so easily attest that behaviour as a human need and therefore it was okay."

She said she was urged to stay in the marriage and her husband continued having affairs, permanently impacting their marriage.

Grace said having that swept under the carpet added to the trauma of her childhood - especially considering sect leaders here and overseas had discouraged her from disclosing the sexual violence, including rape, she suffered as a child and teenager while overseas.

"You think you're the only person, you sit in those meetings as a little kid and you hear that God will protect the good people and the obedient people and you know he didn't protect you so you think, well, I must be really, really bad," she said.

"And then you live with that narrative in your head for all your childhood, your youth and your adulthood."

'They don't want to know'
Grace said sect leaders here and overseas had discouraged her from disclosing the sexual violence against her.

"Even when I made initial tentative attempts to suggest to someone that something had happened, it was always shut down very quickly. They don't want to know, and they definitely don't want any details. And so then that's reinforced. Not only are you bad, but actually we don't even want to know about what's happened to you."

Grace said she was silenced and shamed.

"Silence, secrecy and judgement are three things the church holds very close to themselves. But they're also the three things that allow this kind of abuse to continue," she said.

"The church's cover up doesn't just steal your childhood and your life. They steal your ability to recover from it as well, which is absolutely horrendous."

The sect has 2500 members in New Zealand and its overseer Wayne Dean said he was not aware of the victim's case and it would be inappropriate to provide specific comment.

"We actively encourage care, understanding and support for all victims of sexual abuse," he said.

"As previously communicated, we have zero tolerance of anyone being harmed within our fellowship, and do not condone behaviour of the type described. We encourage, and where able, we support reporting of all sexual abuse to the police."

Dean said counselling and financial support was available through agencies such as ACC and the sect could provide advice as to which agencies can assist victims.

Along with other former members of the sect RNZ has spoken to, Grace said it was hard to leave the sect because she was led to believe she would go to hell if she stopped attending its meetings.

"I hesitate to use the word brainwashed, but when you are led strongly to believe that anyone outside this church is going to hell, then it's an incredibly brave and difficult decision to leave."

Dean said the fellowship follows the teachings of Jesus Christ, and believe that "salvation is available for all mankind and comes through believing in and living according to the teachings of Jesus Christ".

In correspondence to members last year, the sect's Australasian overseers apologised for any long-term damage to victims and said they had a zero tolerance of harming children.

They said an anonymous 16 person advisory group would develop a standard approach to child abuse prevention and survivor support.

'The church doesn't care'
Grace said there had been no further information about that since August and she had not been offered any help, as a victim of historical child abuse.

"The impact of the abuse has affected every part of my life - leaving both physical and psychological scars that I'll never recover from. The church doesn't care - their focus is now on protecting the church, not caring for the victims."

She said she would feel uncomfortable raising the matter with male leaders, and that the women also appeared ill-equipped to provide a trauma-informed response.

"The church initially said that you could speak to anyone of the five male overseers of the church, which is a horrendous way to suggest that people could disclose, given that the majority of the people who've been abused are women," Grace said.

"The rest of the church members all seem to think they have no role or responsibility. Their take on it is that it is just a few bad eggs, so no systemic change is needed. But for every bad egg there are multiple young victims. Exactly how many victims would be enough to make them sit up and take a stand?"

Grace said she believed there are other victims who are not coming forward.

In February, the FBI announced it would be investigating the sect for historical abuse, after victims flooded a hotline set up by survivors in America.

It was not until the sect's Australasian leaders wrote a letter to members in March last year, stating they were aware of overseas instances of child sexual abuse, that Grace realised she was not the only survivor.

"I think I probably cried for a month straight and part of that because I had been betrayed hugely and utterly by a church who had purported to be something that they weren't," she said.

"The bit that really hit me was the fact the church had clearly enabled abuse. They had known that it happened, victims were minimised, perpetrators were picked up and moved to other places. I was devastated, absolutely devastated."

To see more documents/articles regarding this group/organization/subject click here