Gloriavale man jailed for abusing nine children over more than three decades

Gloriavale man jailed for abusing nine children over more than three decades

| The Press | Joanne Naish |

A victim of child sex abuse in Gloriavale is calling for the Government to take action to protect children in the Christian community, saying the court has proved multiple times that it “isn’t a safe place”.

Virginia Courage spoke after the sentencing of Gloriavale man Jonathan Benjamin to 11 years and 10 months in prison on 26 charges against nine victims.

Benjamin, 59, was sentenced on seven charges of indecent assault on girls under 12, five of sexual violation by unlawful sexual connection, nine of indecent assault on girls aged 12 to 16, two of indecent assault on a boy aged 12 to 16, and one each of sexual violation by rape, indecent assault, and indecent assault on a young person under 16.

The offending happened between 1987 and 2020 at Haupiri, Gloriavale’s site on the West Coast, and at Springbank, its original site near Christchurch.

Courage who has waived her right to name suppression said outside court that the sentence reflected the gravity of Benjamin’s offending and reiterated to people in Gloriavale that it was not acceptable.

“There’s a part of me though that has terrible sadness because I feel like why did it have to be 30 years later? … [and] it’s the same leadership group [now] that were leaders when I was a child.”

Gloriavale’s leaders wrote a public letter of apology for failing to protect victims of labour exploitation and sexual abuse in May 2022.

Courage hoped the Government would use the sentencing as a “real opportunity to start correcting some of the failures and the things that they’ve ignored”.

“Gloriavale isn’t a safe place and the court keeps proving that again and again and yet it still exists. It must be time to do something.”

Abuse survivor Virginia Courage says Gloriavale “isn’t a safe place”. TVNZ

She said one of the major reasons she left Gloriavale was to protect her 11 children from abuse.

“Gloriavale is still publicly calling out people as being traitors for talking about wrongdoing and law breaking and discouraging them from going to the authorities… We knew our children weren’t safe and we could not protect them [if we stayed].”

In her victim impact statement, Courage said she lived in constant fear and panic as a result of the abuse she suffered.

She was 13 when it began. Three years later, in 1995, she was called to a meeting with leaders, Benjamin and his other victims where he apologised. Police were not called and Benjamin was allowed to remain in the community, where he continued to offend against other victims.

The offending happened during community movie nights, in bedrooms, in the kitchen, in a shower, during choir practice and when he was babysitting.

Another victim told the court she was taught from a young age to hide her fear and obey men without question.

She said Benjamin was an “instinctive opportunist” who used her vulnerability to exploit her from when she was 12.

Virginia Courage, pictured at Gloriavale, says the Government has a real opportunity to fix some of the problems it’s ignored. SUPPLIED

The leaders found out about the abuse, but blamed her and refused to allow her to marry or have children.

Benjamin’s lawyer, Josh Lucas, asked for a discount in the jail term because Benjamin had been assaulted while in prison, suffering bruising and requiring five stitches and 10 days in hospital.

Judge Mark Callaghan said Benjamin claimed he was a changed man, but a pre-sentence report found he lacked insight and blamed the devil for his offending.

He blamed the Gloriavale leadership for not giving him access to counselling and continued to deny some of the offending.

Judge Callaghan said Benjamin’s letter lacked sincerity and focussed on himself, not his victims.

“I’m not sympathetic… I won’t discount the sentence because of lumpy pillows or because he knows more than the prison chaplain. Prison is not meant to be comfortable.”