'The Truth' 2x2 religious sect leaders tried for three years to get member to admit guilt - victim

By Amy Williams of RNZ

Warning: This story discusses details of sexual abuse

A New Zealand woman who as a child was sexually abused by a member of a secretive sect under investigation by the FBI says the religious group's leaders spent three years trying to get the man to admit his guilt before advising her to go to the police.

The man was found guilty at trial in 2017 for abuse that began in the 1990s, spent time in jail, was placed on the sex offender register and has since left the nameless sect.

The sect has apologised to any victims for its mishandling of abuse in the past, and said it encourages its people to report abuse to police.

Natalie*, who is now in her 40s, said the abuse was crippling and she lived with chronic illness.

She grew up in the sect, and her abuser was also part of the religious group with no name.

The abuse started when she was 12 years old and at 17 she ran away from home to escape the regular visitor.

By the time she disclosed the abuse to her parents, Natalie was an adult with children of her own.

"It wasn't until after I disclosed, they all just went, 'Oh we see it now'," she said.

"It's taught ... it's there from the moment you're born the way things are, the world is unsafe out there but within the fold it's safe and nobody would harm a child in there because they're living by the Bible."

The sect has 2500 members and 60 ministers in New Zealand, meets in homes and has no property, nor an official name - but is commonly known as Two by Twos or The Truth.

Its itinerant ministers, called Workers, travel in pairs and stay in members' homes - the sect says these ministers are now police-vetted and trained in keeping children safe.

Natalie said when she disclosed the abuse more than 10 years ago, the sect's leaders spent years trying to resolve the matter in-house.

"They got involved and for three years there was quite a bit of backwards and forwards, with him denying any wrongdoing. They'd gotten to the point where they said, 'We can't do any more; he's refusing help.'

"They said, 'There's not much more we can do until you go to the police.' "

She reported the abuse to the police and the man was eventually found guilty and jailed.

But she said a "purity" culture based on a patriarchal structure meant her immediate family was treated badly by some of the sect's ministers.

"They've had Workers come into their home that won't look at them, won't talk to them because of what I've done to this 'innocent' man. Even if you're still in the church it will cost you dearly to speak out or have somebody else speak out."

The sect has been active in New Zealand for more than a century. Spokesperson Wayne Dean said they are a group of people with a common belief in the fundamental teachings of Jesus in the New Testament, and their statement of beliefs were based on the gospel of Matthew.

"We seek to live a quiet and peaceful life amongst our fellow men, hoping to show a good example of Christian living," he said in an email.

Dean had confirmed police in New Zealand were investigating at least one former minister for historical abuse and the group was aware of 14 cases of allegations against members.

"When a complaint of historical sexual abuse is brought to our attention, we encourage the victim/survivor to report it to the police - the incident is dealt with as required by the law and the alleged offender is stood down from attending any meetings pending investigations."

The group took every complaint seriously, Dean said.

"Unfortunately, there have been some amongst us that have given in to the desires of their sinful nature and in darkness and secrecy have abused the innocent. Like the rest of society, we are appalled by this and would never condone such behaviour."

Australian victim advocate Jillian Hishon ran a hotline for people linked to the sect to report abuse and said RNZ's stories had helped more New Zealanders to come forward in the past week.

She was concerned the sect was not doing enough to prevent abuse and help people report historic or ongoing abuse.

"This is something that every single Worker should be banging a drum about.

"In my opinion, they should have just stopped all their meetings and conventions and everything, and sorted all this out and ... put across [to] people that they were serious about clearing this up. They're not doing that."

A current insider - who RNZ has agreed not to identify - was also concerned about how the sect's was responding to cases of historic abuse - specifically the lack of information for members and still allowing ministers to stay in homes with children.

"If we're going to have lasting change among us it has to be influenced from inside and outside. If I leave, I don't have as much clout...so I haven't left for that reason. There are things in our way that are really good and there are things in our way that have to change."

Natalie said she believed things could have been different, had her family and abuser not been in the sect.

"If I hadn't have been in the church it may have been quite different, the disclosure, the way I handled it. Who was going to believe me - that a professing man would do that?"

Former members spoke to RNZ on condition of anonymity - names have been changed

Where to get help:

If it is an emergency and you feel like you or someone else is at risk, call 111.