Gloriavale doco shouldn’t be just ‘clickbait entertainment’

Gloriavale doco shouldn’t be just ‘clickbait entertainment’

| 1 News | Ryan Boswell |

The psychological, physical, and emotional abuse at Gloriavale is “not just clickbait entertainment”, Liz Gregory from the Gloriavale Leavers’ Trust says.

Escaping Utopia is a three-part documentary speaking to leavers of the sect, giving unprecedented access to Gloriavale’s inner workings, the unravelling of its leadership, and the pursuit of justice. The programme is being screened on TVNZ+ and TVNZ 1.

Gregory said that, while it’s important to share these stories, she has always found “the entertainment element difficult”.

“You want to move the hearts of the New Zealand public, you want to move the hearts of politicians and those who are in power and have the ability to create better conditions, but it’s not just clickbait entertainment.

“These are very real people, these are their lives, these are their experiences.

“They’re joining us out in society and they’re not to be looked at and laughed at.

Lawyer Dennis Gates, who has represented leavers in court, said the reality of life in Gloriavale was again being paraded on screens for entertainment and could then be quietly forgotten.

“That is the lot of the people in Gloriavale; whetting salacious appetites only to then be forgotten.

“The Gloriavale hierarchy is comfortable with being ‘out of sight out of mind’ as it fits in with their strategies to keep this community as isolated as possible from the rest of the world.

“The leaders tolerate these media exposés because they know the attention span of those in the outside world is less than that of a gnat.

“Government agencies seem to be comfortable with this as a strategy too,” he said.

It’s understood that 25 people have cut ties with the West Coast commune since Christmas, and it costs “at a minimum” $50,000 to resettle a family when they leave.

“We use the funds for direct resettling of leavers, but we employ staff who can work with leavers in a really kind, compassionate way.

“This journey involves rebuilding someone’s external world and rebuilding them internally as a person.

“The people who come out feeling useless and worthless, the people with medical issues, the people who need to understand who they are what they like, and what they value.

“These are long-term issues of support.”

Often people join mainstream society without a bank account, or a passport, and need help reconnecting with family or making new friends.

Gloriavale men have patriarchal views and often aren’t given much power in their own families, so come out with “quite a low self-confidence”, Gregory said.

Women only leave the community if their husbands do, and they can feel “shellshocked” but are more likely to seek help in therapy.

“The infliction of mental distress is across all the residents in Gloriavale,” Gregory said.

“You’ve got people who’ve suffered mental, emotional, sexual, and physical which has been unbelievably heartbreaking.”

An appeal for the Gloriavale Leavers’ Trust is being run online to coincide with the release of the documentary.