‘Devil’ blamed for sex offending

‘Devil’ blamed for sex offending

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A former Gloriavale “predator’’ found guilty of multiple historical sexual offences against girls and boys as young as six was yesterday jailed for 11 years and 10 months. A Greymouth District Court jury took two weeks late last year to find Jonathan Benjamin, 58, guilty of 11 counts of sexual offending against four victims.

He admitted 15 separate charges in 2021.

In total, Benjamin’s offending spans nine victims and more than 30 years, between the late 1980s and the original Gloriavale site at Springbank, near Christchurch, and 2020 at Haupiri, Gloriavale’s current site on the West Coast. His youngest victim was six at the time, and the offending continued until she was 12.

The court heard that victim was now 17. She came forward to the police, starting the investigation into Benjamin’s many years of offending. Three of his victims were present in court yesterday and read victim impact statements as Benjamin sometimes wept in the dock.

One of his victims, Virginia Courage, waived her right to name suppression so she could speak out against the abuse she suffered as a child. The mother of 11 said she had previously lived in Gloriavale for 40 years. “I have relived my abuse in every moment of my life. I live with constant fear, I panic very easily, I never feel safe. It doesn’t go away.’’ She told Benjamin he had lived “a life of lies” trying to hide who he really was. “You’re a predator preying on the young, the innocent, the vulnerable.”

Mrs Courage said Gloriavale children were always taught to obey adults. “Gloriavale children are told the outside world is bad and … outside people are bad (that) the bad outside people are the ones that will hurt you. In child talk, the good people are in Gloriavale, but this is so not true.’’

While Gloriavale was not on trial, the system that had enabled the abuse needed to be held accountable, she said. Gloriavale leaders knew about the offending and had done nothing to support the victims. Benjamin was able to stay in the community and keep offending for decades.

“I was a child. A frightened child, an alone child, A hurt child and a broken child. Jonathan is not the first child abuser of Gloriavale and sadly he won’t be the last.’’

Another victim, now 47, said since the age of three or four her abuser had been in some way involved in her life in a place of authority.

“I think that he was an instinctive opportunist who used my vulnerability to exploit and control me. In Gloriavale we were taught to put other people’s needs before our own, we have been taught our whole life never to say ‘no’. I was 12 years old when I first started getting advances from Jonathan. I now know this as grooming. “I was in pain for days after I was raped when I was 15 years old.

I would often go somewhere and hide. I would cry because I was in a lot of pain. I was so tired I could not work as I was expected to.’’ The victim said the community did not deal well with disclosure of sexual abuse or rape. She was deemed not eligible for marriage and delegated to menial tasks.

“I have felt angry and frustrated for years. My abuser took my chance to ever have a family and children of my own. Something I have desired ever since I was a girl. “I never asked to be abused. I was a young, insecure girl that was preyed upon.”

She said she still suffered PTSD from the abuse. A victim impact statement was also read from Benjamin’s sole male victim. His statement said children, including himself, had to live with the “vile things he did to them” and cope with the life sentence of the trauma.

“You took advantage of vulnerable children for your own sexual gratification. I will live with that abuse for the rest of my life.’’

Benjamin was before Judge Mark Callaghan for sentence on 26 charges including sexual violation by rape, sexual violation by unlawful sexual connection, indecent assault on a girl under 12, indecent assault on a girl aged 12 to 16 years, indecent assault on a boy 12 to 16, indecent assault on a young person under 16 years. The offending took place over 31 years, against nine victims.

Judge Callaghan said Benjamin was known to most as a teacher both at Springbank and Gloriavale 

The Crown said he did not accept the wrong he had done, blaming the devil for his offending.

The offending took place over too many years for previous good character to be taken into consideration for any discount. A starting point of 12 to 13 years’ imprisonment was sought.

A bulk of the offending occurred between 1987 and 1998 at Springbank, where Benjamin joined as a 10-year-old with his parents. More recent offending occurred between 2010 and 2017 at Lake Haupiri.

Judge Callaghan said the violation was extensive. It involved touching their genitals inside and outside their clothes and on one occasion, rape. Offending often took place while victims and community members were sleeping or under the cover of darkness, for instance in the movie room. Age parity was a factor.

Benjamin’s offending began in his early 20s and continued until he was 53. His last victim was six when the offending began, while Benjamin was 45. Judge Callaghan made a starting point of 15 years prison, 12 for the historic offending, and three for the more recent offending.

His early guilty pleas had spared five victims going to trial. He received no credit for good character. Discount was sought by Benjamin’s defence for remorse, however, Judge Callaghan said there was no remorse shown in a meeting in 1995 where he and his victims were made to apologise to each other.

After that he continued to offend. In a letter, Benjamin said no longer suffered the “evil desires’’ he felt for so long inside Gloriavale. He claimed he was “a new man”.

He had promised God to make reparation of $10,000 to each complainant.

The court heard Benjamin had been assaulted while in custody awaiting sentencing. However, Judge Callaghan said he was not sympathetic to his experience so far and would not make discounts for “a lumpy pillow’’ or because he knew more than the prison chaplain.

He settled on an end sentence of 11 years and 10 months in prison. The latter charges carried terms of three years imprisonment, to be served concurrently.