'Worried for her safety': Gloriavale dad on why he fled sect with wife and kids

Otago Daily Times, New Zealand/August 30, 2022

By Anna Leask

A man born and raised at Gloriavale has revealed he pulled his family out of the community due to the way his wife and daughter were treated - including being "publicly ridiculed and humiliated" and forced to work.
Isaac Pilgrim said he was sick of being "absolutely smashed" by the leaders in the West Coast sect and wanted "freedom" for his family.

He gave evidence in the Employment Court today before Chief Judge Christina Inglis in a case brought against Gloriavale by his daughter Serenity Pilgrim and five other women.

Pilgrim, Pearl Valour, Anna Courage, Rose Standtrue, Crystal Loyal and Virginia Courage say they were effectively born into and kept in "servitude" - which is illegal in New Zealand - forced to work long days with no breaks and very little food or water.

The women are seeking a ruling from the Employment Court that they were employees and not volunteers at Gloriavale.

Their case follows a similar action by a group of former Gloriavale men who the court ruled were employees from when they were just 6-years-old, regularly undertaking "strenuous, difficult, and sometimes dangerous" work when they were still legally required to be at school.

In that case, Judge Christina Inglis ruled that the men had worked up to 70 hours a week and were subjected to "rigorous, sometimes violent supervision", being hit if they did not work fast enough and denied food at times.

Both cases followed multiple inquiries into the employment status of people living and working at Gloriavale.

The current proceedings are expected to continue for more than a month.
At least 49 witnesses will be called including the leavers and their supporters and women who still live at Gloriavale.

A number of current members have been in court to hear the evidence - some laughing at the claims of leavers and others whispering and passing notes.

Others have been taking extensive handwritten notes about what is being said in the courtroom.

This morning Judge Inglis heard the last of Serenity Pilgrim's evidence.

She was born at Gloriavale and remained there until she was 16 when her parents left in the middle of the night.

Before then, she claims she was forced to work up to 90 hours a week and rarely got breaks.

"Parents had very little say on where you worked, it's decided for them they don't have a lot of say around who you work for, when you start and when you finish," she explained.

"If you don't work, and you don't work hard, you would often get told off.

"There was considerable pressure on you to come to work, to work hard, to do the hours you were told to.

"You were scared of getting told off, of getting in trouble… in there, I felt there wasn't any option."

Her father Isaac Pilgrim said the treatment of the women and girls was the reason he took his family out of the community.
He gave evidence this morning that from when she was a youngster his daughter was expected to work long hours - often starting at 3am.

He told the court that he had witnessed firsthand former shepherd Howard Temple "absolutely yelling at girls for meals being late… or overcooked".

Other leaders in the community would "utterly absolutely go off at the girls… yelling at them in front of everyone else in the kitchen" for anything that was not up to their exacting standards.

The girls were also forced to stand in front of the entire community at dinner and "apologise" using a microphone for any issues with the food or service.

Isaac Pilgrim said it was upsetting to see the girls shamed in front of "everyone they had ever known".

He said his daughter's education at Gloriavale was "absolutely minimal" and from the age of 13 she was expected to start work in the early hours of the morning or late at night.

"I was worried for her safety," he said.

"I would help her with jobs so she wouldn't be working on her own."

He explained he was "worried about young fellas harassing her" and revealed that he "beat one up" at one stage because he kept "getting in her face".

Isaac Pilgrim said he wanted to send "a message to (Gloriavale men) so they knew she was off limits".

He said the leadership were untouchable and could effectively do whatever they wanted.

Anyone who questioned them would be "ridden until they were mental wrecks".

"The leaders just rode them until they were broken," he said.

He said some of the men including shepherds were "a bit creepy, very creepy".

"Leadership are allowed to touch the girls, any of the girls… particularly the single girls… If you ever tried to say there was anything sexual or inappropriate you were destroyed, absolutely annihilated,' said Isaac Pilgrim.

"They would just shame you into silence."

He also revealed that if anything happened between single girls at Gloriavale and any man they were held completely responsible.

He said whether it was an actual or perceived "indiscretion" women "always get it worse".

"The girls shoulder the blame, they are always told it's their fault - always," he told the court.

"Girls are publicly ridiculed and humiliated… it's standard in the community that girls get blamed.

"They are labelled whores… even if nothing happened… even if something inappropriate was done to them by a man, their reputation was tarnished."

Isaac Pilgrim said "victim shaming and blaming" was "standard" at Gloriavale.

Further, he said single women accused of any "inappropriate" behaviour were married off to "less desirable" men in the community "or shipped off to India" to marry men there.

"Or they are not allowed to get married at all - particularly if they are no longer considered pure, and therefore damaged goods."

Isaac Pilgrim explained to the court that women were expected to have baby after baby and if they were not pregnant within two years of giving birth they were questioned and castigated.
He said after one of his children was born his wife was severely unwell but the leaders expected her to go back to work - and to fall pregnant again despite concerns for her health.

He said he started to get "more and more sick of it" and began discussing with his wife that they should leave.

"One of the main reasons we left when we did was when (Serenity) was 16 the shepherds were already asking us if we thought she was ready to get married," he said.

"I wasn't going to have a bar of an arranged marriage for her at that time.

"I wanted my kids to grow up free, and to have choices."


Yesterday the womens' lawyer Brian Henry said the court would hear evidence of that women in the community were expected to "scrub, cook and clean for the rest of their life" or be "pregnant for the rest of their life".

"They were under the control of the shepherds and had no freedom," he said.

"You don't oppose the shepherds ... you're out of unity if you don't just trot on and behave how you want them to."

Gloriavale lawyer Phillip Skelton QC said the community's leadership rejected all claims of servitude and forced labour.

He said the leavers were "embittered" and their accounts were "plainly untrue".
"There is no dispute that the women in Gloriavale work - and work hard," he said.

"Most people do unpaid work at home to support their families and extended families."

Ultimately, Skelton said the case against the community was nothing more than an attempt to "blacken" it.

"The women of Gloriavale know their own minds and make their own decisions, they are not held in servitude... they are not stupid, they are not brainwashed... they are not unwitting, they are not sex slaves.

"These women are not ignorant of the outside world... It is not correct they have no comprehension or ability to understand the joys of the outside world... they have made a different choice... they have their own voice."

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