Police urge former Gloriavale members to speak out

Police want to speak to former members of the Gloriavale Christian commune after allegations of abuse in the media.

The West Coast commune has been under intense scrutiny after former members of the community came forward with accusations of brainwashing, physcial punishment and sexual abuse, including against girls as young as 12.

After saying last week they had received no complaints, police issued a statement urging people to discuss their experiences at the Gloriavale community.

Tasman Police District Commander Superintendent Karyn Malthus said ex-members should feel confident in approaching police.

"We are aware of certain allegations which have recently been made in the media and we would like to fully understand what these mean. We would welcome further information about this or any other matter, which will help police assess how to proceed from here," she said.

"I would like to assure anyone who is considering approaching police that they will be dealt with professionally and with empathy by staff who are trained to deal with sensitive issues."

Malthus said police did not need a complaint to act, but information would help in any decision to investigate further.

Senior Gloriavale figure Fervent Stedfast said he understood allegations about activity within the community were serious.

"What the police do is entirely the police's affair and we have no comment to make about the people who have left the community. They are free to live their life and we are not here to argue or debate or answer or to say any details about other people's lives."

When told the allegations made against the community were serious, he said: "I understand that, but we have no comment to make."

Stedfast said he had received a "constant deluge" of phone calls since former members went public with their claims.

He refused to comment further.

A 22-year-old who left Gloriavale three years ago recently told Campbell Live she had a "wrong relationship with a married guy" when she was 12 or 13. He was 10 years older.

"I was very young and I did not want to tell anyone about that at the time... because I felt I would get looked down upon, I would get all the blame - it would all come back on me," she said.

Barnabas Ben-Canaan wanted to leave the commune when he was 14, and when he was 16 found a job on a neighbouring farm.

However, Gloriavale leaders told him if he left the community, he could not live next door and was "pushed into a car" and dropped off on the side of the road.

He said he knew older men were sexually involved with girls under 16, saying there was "a bit of that going on".

One of the leaders had been involved with a number of underage girls, he said. The leader was in his 30s and the girls were 13 or 14 years old.

There was little punishment for the man but the girls "got more growlings".

Between the ages of five and 10, he "got a lot of beatings" with pipes and big wooden spoons.

Gloriavale's leader, Neville Cooper (known as Hopeful Christian), was convicted and jailed for sexual assault in 1994.