WARNING: Disturbing content

Name suppression for convicted Gloriavale teacher Just Standfast who indecently assaulted a 9-year-old pupil was lifted this week. Anke Richter spoke to the victim's father who believes she was groomed, and claims his wife and daughter were blamed for the sexual abuse.

In March, Just Standfast was sentenced in the Greymouth court to six months of community detention and two years of intensive supervision for indecently assaulting a child. Not only was the offender's name suppressed but also his living place, Gloriavale.

Just Standfast (left) leaves Greymouth District Court with senior Gloriavale leader Fervent Stedfast. New Zealand Herald photograph / Kurt Bayer
Just Standfast (left) leaves Greymouth District Court with senior Gloriavale leader Fervent Stedfast. New Zealand Herald photograph / Kurt Bayer

He had joined the fundamentalist Christian cult with his wife and child as a young adult. There is more to the former teacher's story that couldn't be told until now – including the bizarre fact that before his trial, he was hiding out at the filming location of the TV series City Celebrity, Country Nobody.

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In 2012, when Standfast was still a teacher at the West Coast community, he assaulted a 9-year-old girl from his class. Judge Raoul Neave noted that she was "something of a favourite" for the 68-year-old man.

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During a playtime break Standfast went to take a nap in another room and asked the pupil, who he had kissed in the past, to wake him up. He asked for a cuddle, then pulled her close on his bed, touched her bottom, force-kissed her and exposed his penis.

The scared child ran away to her mother who went to the principal. Standfast claimed in court that it was "an accident involving clothing".

Low mist hangs over the the Gloriavale Christian community at Haupiri, near Greymouth. New Zealand Herald photograph / Kurt Bayer
Low mist hangs over the the Gloriavale Christian community at Haupiri, near Greymouth. New Zealand Herald photograph / Kurt Bayer

But the victim's father told the Herald on Sunday that he believes his daughter was groomed, and that there are other victims of the Gloriavale teacher who the leadership pressured into not working with the police.

The man - who cannot be named to protect his daughter's identity - is a farmer in his 40s, one of the many disillusioned and disobedient men who have been kicked out of the cult, leaving their wives and large families behind. He is battling in court and with the community leaders to get the rest of his family out of Gloriavale.

He was still living at Gloriavale when the attack happened. His wife called him while he was working out on the farm.

"At first I thought there was an accident," he says. He was then instructed by the principal to confront the teacher – who was his own teacher back when he was a schoolboy.

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"The confrontation was seriously inadequate. I was so passive because I didn't know the proper way to go about it. Just [Standfast] didn't come forward, I had to bring it up and then he said he was sorry. That was all."

The principal told the father later that day, "we'll handle it from here". The primary school teacher was taken out of the community for a few months, then reinstated at the high school where he would only teach boys.

The entrance to the Gloriavale settlement was blocked on the day of former leader Hopeful Christian's funeral in May 2018. New Zealand Herald photograph / Kurt Bayer
The entrance to the Gloriavale settlement was blocked on the day of former leader Hopeful Christian's funeral in May 2018. New Zealand Herald photograph / Kurt Bayer

The attack was never reported to authorities, says the father.

"No one was given an explanation, no one ever consulted with me or my wife or offered any help to my daughter or apologised to her."

Five years later, after the father had left the community, he finally took action after learning more about the law.

When the police became involved, late Gloriavale leader Hopeful Christian – a convicted sexual offender himself – brought the mother into a meeting with the Servants and Shepherds, all men of authority.

"Nev [Neville Cooper aka Hopeful Christian] told them that it was her fault, that she had not looked after my daughter properly or she wouldn't have seduced this old guy. He also spoke about forgiveness – that they all need to forgive Just, including my daughter."

According to him and others who know her, his wife is under constant pressure from the leadership to abandon him – a common form of punishment and control by cult leaders to make renegades repent and return.

"It's like a brainwash. They tell her I'm with the devil, to hold her love back from me."

The Servants and Shepherds meetings are a means of keeping community members in line and subjugating women.

The father lives about 40 minutes away from Gloriavale. The children visit him every week at his place, which he had to fight through the courts. While they are being dropped off by a driver from Gloriavale, as ordered by the leaders who have absolute control over the women inside, their mother – who has a driver's licence – waits in a house down the road that belongs to the community. It's where Just Standfast, the convicted teacher, lives and works on a farm.

"The whole purpose is for her not to see me, because that's what they dictate," says the victim's father.

"It's sick. They'd rather put her up with a paedophile than with me. How does that make any sense?"

The victim impact statement showed that the girl had suffered significant psychological harm. During sentencing, Judge Neave suggested appropriate treatment so that the effects would not be long-lasting.

The father claims that he and his wife had to "push it through" that they could take their teenage daughter to counselling.

"There's a cultural negativity in Gloriavale about counselling – you just suck it up, get over it."

The site of the Gloriavale religious settlement on the South Island's West Coast. Photo / Supplied
The site of the Gloriavale religious settlement on the South Island's West Coast. Photo / Supplied

Christchurch trauma counsellor Mareile Stoppel says it is legally and morally wrong to ask a child to forgive her abuser and put the responsibility on her.

"It is easy to manipulate a child, especially in the name of God. They will believe what happened was their fault and turn it against themselves, which can lead to PTSD [post-traumatic stress syndrome]," says Stoppel who works at START, a specialist service for victims of sexual abuse.

While Standfast was awaiting trial, he was housed at Kopara Village, a former sawmill near Lake Haupiri on a gravel road past the Gloriavale turn-off which later became a hunters' lodge and backpackers. It was also the place where the 2004 TVNZ show City Celebrity, Country Nobody was filmed. It has since been sold to new owners.

Standfast admitted a charge of sexual conduct with a child and was sentenced in March to six months of community detention and two years of intensive supervision.

Where to get help:

• If it's an emergency and you feel that you or someone else is at risk, call 111.
• If you've ever experienced sexual assault or abuse and need to talk to someone call the confidential crisis helpline Safe to Talk on: 0800 044 334 or text 4334.
• Alternatively contact your local police station
• If you have been abused, remember it's not your fault.