Former Gloriavale members say leadership repeatedly refused to involve police over child sex offending allegations

A former Gloriavale trustee says the leadership within the religious community repeatedly refused to involve the police in allegations of sexual offending against children.

Zion Pilgrim says abuse complaints were mismanaged - sometimes even ignored - and that attitude was one of the reasons he left Gloriavale.

He tried to get the leadership to change the way the community was run, including how it responded to child sex abuse claims - but to no avail.

"Probably dearest to my heart was the reluctance to involve police when there was clearly criminal wrongdoing," he tells Newshub.

His wife, Gloriana Pilgrim, also a former Gloriavale member, says she approached leaders about concerns that toddlers were being abused in late 2019. She was ignored. 

"And it came back on me that I was wrong for even worrying about it or addressing it because I had been given information, and basically the information just needed to disappear," she says.

"I was completely wrong for doing that. And that just blew my mind - I thought, 'but it's our job to protect these kids'."

Gloriavale is built around self-sufficiency - the residents grow their own food and make their own clothes. 

The Pilgrims say that ideology has extended into handling all accusations in-house.

Zion says that included alleged offending against another child, also in 2019. 

"And that wasn't addressed. And then the same offender reoffending against multiple other people, other victims."

Newshub understands the police are now investigating this matter.

"There were parents not told that things were happening with their children, and that's just really sad," Gloriana says.

Around 600 people currently live at Gloriavale. The late founder, Hopeful Christian, was a convicted sex offender. A teacher at the community, Just Standfast, was convicted of indecently assaulting a nine-year-old in 2019.

Police began another investigation in June 2020, leading to two other members being charged so far.

Former Gloriavale members say leadership repeatedly refused to involve police over child sex offending allegations
Photo credit: Newshub.

"When the first charges came back to the leaders about what was happening to the youth there and the sexual assaults, one of them said all we have to do is teach our kids not to talk to the police," Gloriana says.

In 2017, Gloriavale committed to implementing a sexual harassment policy. 

Newshub has obtained the most recent version, dated September 8, 2020, under the Official Information Act, which states that if making a formal complaint, Gloriavalie's own Trust will investigate and it will "nominate three people" to assist the victim.  

Under the heading "outside complaints mechanism", the police and Human Rights Commission are mentioned.

"I'm really concerned about this policy. It's really lacking in a number of key areas," says Fiona McNamara, CEO of RespectEd Aotearoa.

McNamara heads a charity focused on preventing sexual harm. She says the policy doesn't reference children at all or how to contact outside agencies. 

"I'm concerned about the people in Gloriavale who aren't going to have easy access to the internet, or to a phone, or to go off site, or privacy to have those conversations with anyone," she says.

Zion says talking to those on the outside is frowned upon and cellphones are forbidden.

"That's a cardinal sin."

The Pilgrims say the policy means nothing unless the leadership is prepared to listen to complaints and take them seriously.

"When information was brought forward, it was crushed. Or the person bringing it forward was crushed," Gloriana says.

They say that's because leaders want total control over the population and dissenting opinion is unwelcome. 

"Your own conscience - you've got to be willing to give that up," Zion says.

And that's why the Pilgrims don't regret what they've done. They say their hope is that Gloriavale can become a safe place where people are free to speak the truth. 

Newshub requested comment from Gloriavale's leaders about the allegations made by the Pilgrims and about their sexual harassment policy. They have not responded.