Gloriavale’s treatment of woman ‘disturbing’, says former MP after visit to community

New Zealand Herald/March 24, 2024

By Rachel Maher

Former MP Catherine Delahunty has revealed her brush with the Gloriavale community left her “disturbed” and “heartbroken” for the women there.

The ex-Green MP said during a 2015 visit to the West Coast Christian community she witnessed institutionalised misogyny that left women without an education or voice.

A spokesperson for Gloriavale rejected claims their woman were uneducated, saying they were “more qualified than other communities in the region”.

In light of recent court cases and a new documentary, she hopes the sect will be “disintegrated” before another generation of children are left traumatised.

The sect has been embroiled in scandal in the last year after the new leader, Howard Temple, was accused of 24 charges of indecent assault towards young women.

Gloriavale founder Hopeful Christian - formerly known as Neville Cooper - was found guilty on three charges of indecent assault in 1995 for inserting a wooden dildo inside a 19-year-old woman over three successive days.

Many have left the community in recent years, with women who were born and raised there taking Gloriavale to the Employment Court over allegations of mistreatment while working there.

Delahunty was a staunch critic of the sect during her time in Parliament as the Green Party’s education spokeswoman and was invited to visit the community.

She was concerned after investigations found many female community members were leaving high school education at 16 having only gained NZQA credits in childcare.

The leaders hoped by inviting her she would stop her investigations into the lack of education for women, but she said it had the opposite effect.

Delahunty questioned the teenagers inside the sect as to why they had no interest in university education and got the same answer back each time.

“They really wanted to obey their husbands and be submissive,” Delahunty said.

“You could see they were so inside the indoctrinated world that they really believed there was no world outside, it was so dangerous and terrifying.”

Delahunty said she was “deeply disturbed” by the lack of control women had over their lives. The women were voiceless in a community controlled by a small group of men.

A woman spoke of her sadness to Delahunty, explaining she was unable to have any more children. She had given birth to 14 children.

“To be a breeding machine for the cult was the only definition of a valuable life for women,” Delahunty said.

A spokesperson for the Gloriavle Christian Community could not speak on the state of female education in 2015, but claimed today they had no high school-aged children in the sect.

When the current students are of high school age, they will be home-schooled and “encouraged to gain NZQA credits.

“Well you need credits to do anything these days,” the spokesperson said.

“I believe we have more qualified people in our community than most other communities in our region.”

He did not clarify what kind of work they expected students to do once alleged credits were gained.

As ongoing legal challenges continue to threaten the secretive commune’s future, Delahunty applauded the women who escaped and led the challenge against the community.

In 2015 it was very difficult to find anybody who would take this seriously, Delahunty said.

“Nobody in official wanted to ask any questions about this and it’s been the women themselves that have really led the courageous challenge to Gloriavale,” Delahunty said.

A new documentary by TVNZ aims to shed light on the community by revisiting its origins and speaking to those who have left.

The Gloriavale spokesperson said they were refusing to comment on the documentary.

Delahunty said she is grateful people are starting to take her concerns seriously, however, there is still work to be done.

“The sooner the better that community actually disintegrates and people have the freedom to make their own decisions,” Delahunty said.

“I don’t hope it doesn’t take another generation of children being brought up like that and young people being oppressed to change it.”

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