Virginia Courage, pictured in Gloriavale, says she was forced to work when her baby was sick.
Warning: This story covers details of alleged sexual abuse.
A former Gloriavale member says inappropriate touching of women and children has become part of the culture, and leaders told women, “I shall not fear what men do to me.”
“They demanded a hug … Any man could approach any girl or woman and touch them inappropriately,” Virginia Courage told Christchurch Labor Court on Friday.
Overseeing shepherds told members that as Christians they could do nothing to protect their wives from rape or molestation.
They would tell women not to make a fuss about their bodies, she said.
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“It’s just your body, no big deal, you’re not going to take that body to heaven… I won’t be afraid of what people do to me, remember?”
Community leaders would justify inappropriate touching of children by demanding “a holy kiss and a hug,” Courage said.
Older men would reply “they love it” when mothers asked them if they would touch the children.
“The children are not the most important thing in Gloriavale. making money is
“I was outraged and angry for a long time.”
Courage said she was forced to work even though her 13-month-old child was ill, and when she heard the child screaming, rushed back to find her alone.
She had informed the overseeing shepherds that the baby was not well and that a nurse should be singled out so that she could attend to her domestic responsibilities to the community.
She could hear her child screaming from her work station. She found her baby alone in a bedroom, screaming in pain, with the door closed.
Courage is one of six women arguing in the labor court that they should have been recognized as employees, not volunteers, for the housework they have done for years at the religious sect.
Gloriavale’s Christian Church Community Trust is valued at $43 million.
Courage, a mother of 11, left the church in February 2019 after “unchristian behavior” became common, the court heard Friday.
“I was very worried about the safety of my children,” she told the court.
Courage also described a class system present in the community, similar to Pearl Valor’s evidence, where single, unmarried women are “at the bottom”.
Marriage is a “seal of approval” in the community, Courage said, with overseeing shepherds often questioning single women’s desire to live in the community and their fidelity to it.
“From my experience as a single person, I was at the bottom of the church. The shepherds used to growl at us.”
Babies were not allowed to travel outside the community with their mothers, and breastfeeding was compulsory. This meant that when women went into town, another woman had to breastfeed their child.
“The baby would have a horrible time being breastfed by another woman, and it would upset the mothers, who fought it the only way Gloriavale women can—silently.” They were trying to sneak around the system because it was awful that they were going to take your miserable baby away from you.”
On Thursday, Valor told the court that members of the “upper class” (relatives of leaders) are given access to special foods and dental care, while others are left with basic necessities or, on some days, no food at all.
Leaders would control members by using food “as a weapon” — taking food from those who didn’t follow the rules and giving it to those who conformed, she said.
On more than one occasion, between three and five people have been assigned to cook for the entire 600-strong congregation.
The testifying women are Virginia Courage, Pearl Valor, Serenity Pilgrim, Rose Standtrue, Anna Courage and Crystal Loyal.
Gloriavale leaders deny claims that the women were employees.
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