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Who is Lilia Tarawa? Woman EXPOSES Gloriavale cult where men were 'groomed' to have sex with minors

Tarawa, who fled the cult run by her warped grandfather in 2009, revealed the horrors of the Gloriavale Christian Community in New Zealand
UPDATED JUN 13, 2022
Lilia Tarawa, 31, spoke about growing up in the Gloriavale commune, where 'old-fashioned corporal punishment was encouraged' (TedX and 1news/YouTube)
Lilia Tarawa, 31, spoke about growing up in the Gloriavale commune, where 'old-fashioned corporal punishment was encouraged' (TedX and 1news/YouTube)

Gloriavale Christian Community is one of the most controversial Christian communities, close to Haupiri on the coast of New Zealand's South Island. The religious cult is cut off from the outside world with no outer involvement. Over the years, the oppressive cult has been hit by several police probes over the allegations of forced marriage, sexual and physical abuse, and forced family separations. After two years of investigation, police issued a letter to the Gloriavale Christian Community in May 2022, listing the charges and revelations about the places where sexual abuse took place.

Lilia Tarawa, a 31-year-old woman from New Zealand, who fled the religious cult run by her grandfather in 2009, opened up about how young girls were forced into sexual slavery after marrying older men in the Gloriavale commune. In an interview with 1news that aired on Sunday, June 12, 2022, Tarawa made some revelations about the Gloriavale commune and mentioned that greater agency involvement is needed to ensure there is meaningful change within the oppressive, secretive West Coast community. Tarawa revealed that her life inside Gloriavale as a woman was one of submission, domestic servitude, and fear of eternal damnation and hell. The interview was followed by a letter of apology written by the community's leadership. 


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In May, the community's leadership issued a letter of apology, stating, “Much has changed at Gloriavale since 2018 when, at the passing of our founder, the leadership mantle passed to a new leader." "During this period, we have revised our governance and charted new directions for our community. We are deeply saddened by the harm members of our community have experienced," the community’s leadership wrote. "We apologize for our role in failing to prevent and protect victims of labor exploitation and sexual abuse," the apology further read.

Gloriavale Christian Church ( TedX/YouTube)

Who is Lilia Tarawa?

Tarawa was born in the religious cult called Gloriavale Christian Community and fled from there with her eleven family members when she was 18 years old because of its strict, and oppressive rules. Tarawa is the granddaughter of Hopeful Christian who founded the Gloriavale Christian Community in 1969. 

Lilia Tarawa during her teenage years at Gloriavale (TedX/YouTube)

According to Tarawa, children were even lower than women in the cult's hierarchy, being forced to marry older men in arranged marriages. And birth control was banned, meaning many women and young girls had several children. Tarawa said her sick grandfather "would have happily married off children of 10 or 12 years."

"Gloriavale told me that I wasn't allowed to have sex with anyone until I was married. In fact, it wasn't until I escaped the cult later and had sex for the first time, that I was finally broken free from the religious chain," Tarawa told the Daily Mail. "I realized I wasn't going to go to hell for having sex. That was the beginning of my freedom," she added.

Brutal beatings

Tarawa claimed that she witnessed brutal corporal punishment being dished out to people who broke rules. She said, "Old-fashioned corporal punishment was encouraged. Those memories are hard." Tarawa told that during her teenage years, her parents moved to a separate house near Gloriavale and she was exposed to the life of a modern woman. "I was living two lives, but could see elements of a different world out there," she said. "It was hard, but I wanted some closure from the world I had left. Part of me still wondered what life was like in Gloriavale. It's a tough world out here, but it made me thankful I am here - there is so much here that lights me up," she further added.

Gloriavale Community (TedX/YouTube)

From marriages to clothing and food, everything is strictly under control at Gloriavale. And, if people try to leave, they are dissipated from the community. Women have to cover their heads, show no flesh in order to not tempt the men, do all the domestic work, submit to their husbands, and birth as many babies as they can. Young girls are often wed to older men.

Karen Winder, a former member of the cult, revealed how the leader thought "13 or 14-year-old girls are ready to have babies" and men are "groomed" to have sex with underage girls. The women are forced to wear headscarves with loose, full-length blue dresses, high necklines, and long sleeves, serving as inspiration for the hit TV series 'The Handmaid's Tale'.

Revelation after a police investigation

The letter issued by police revealed a list of places where horrific sexual abuse was taking place, including inside a dinosaur prop in the dining room, according to Stuff. The list included an old car down by the creek, the hen house, underneath the stage in the main area, a bike shed, and all communal toilets and bathrooms.

Former member Virginia Courage said that she knew the sexual abuse was going on for more than 20 years. "There were more people coming out and saying this had happened and you haven't done anything," she said. "It was pretty heartbreaking... it was a big reason why we left. It wasn't just about the abuse, but it was that you couldn't get the leaders to be honest about it and get anything done," Courage said.

'The Handmaid's Tale'

A hit TV series 'The Handmaid's Tale' was inspired by the Gloriavale Christian Community. The show is set in the dystopian United States, where Handmaids, dressed in bright red dresses and white peaked caps that obscure their faces, are forced to bear children. Costume designer Ane Crabtree said she wanted there to be "glimpses of reality in the clothing" and based the Handmaid's outfits on Gloriavale.