Inside The True Handmaid’s Tale – I Escaped A Religious Cult Run By My Sex Offender Grandfather

A WOMAN who fled a cult led by her deformed grandfather has told how young girls were forced into sexual slavery after marrying older men.

Lilia Tarawa, 31, said everyone in New Zealand’s Gloriavale township was forced to share everything from meals to prayers and even breastfeeding.


Lilia Tarawa, 31, spoke about her 18 years of life in the Gloriavale communeCredit: Youtube / 1news
Lilia pictured while living in the sect with her family


Lilia pictured while living in the sect with her familyCredit: Youtube / 1news
The Handmaid's Tale costumes were inspired by Gloriavale


The Handmaid’s Tale costumes were inspired by Gloriavale1 credit

The controversial Christian community, near Haupiri on the country’s south island coast, is cut off from the outside world with no internet access and the media is heavily restricted.

The oppressive sect has been hit with several police investigations over the years, investigating allegations of forced marriage, sexual and physical abuse and forced family separations.

Marriages are arranged at Gloriavale, while clothing and food are strictly controlled – and if people try to leave they are shunned.

Women should cover their heads, show no flesh so as not to tempt men, do all the housework, submit to their husbands and give birth to as many babies as they can.

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Young girls are forced to marry much older men, with a former member revealing how the leader thought ’13 or 14 year old girls are ready to have babies’.

Karen Winder says men are “groomed” to have sex with underage girls.

Women are forced to wear headscarves with loose, long blue dresses, high collars and long sleeves – serving as inspiration for the hit TV series The Handmaid’s Tale.

The show is set in a dystopian United States, where servant girls, 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 “glints of reality in the clothes” and based the Handmaid’s outfits on Gloriavale.

Australian evangelist Hopeful Christian, born Neville Cooper, founded the Gloriavale Christian Community in 1969.

Lilia – Christian’s granddaughter – was a member of the commune for 18 years, following its strict and oppressive rules before finally escaping.

Strikingly similar to the women in The Handmaid’s Tale, Lilia said her life inside Gloriavale as a woman was one of submission, domestic servitude, and fear of eternal damnation and hell.

Children were even lower than women in the hierarchy of the sect – children being forced to marry older men in arranged marriages.

And birth control was banned – which meant many girls had many children.

Lilia said her ailing grandfather “would have happily married children of 10 or 12”.

At 16, she promises her grandfather to submit to men, to take care of the home and to be “gentle, modest and pure”.

She told Femail: “Gloriavale told me 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 freed from the religious chain.

“I realized I wouldn’t go to hell for having sex. That was the start of my freedom.”


And Lilia claimed to have witnessed brutal corporal punishment inflicted on people who broke the rules.

She said: “Old-fashioned corporal punishment was encouraged. Those memories are hard.”

Later in her teens, Lilia’s parents moved to a separate house near Gloriavale, still part of the cult – but that meant she was exposed to the life of a modern woman.

“I was living two lives, but I could see elements of a different world there,” she said.

Eventually she broke free and when she returned she said her grandfather treated her “like a stranger”.

She said: “He wouldn’t talk to me. He treated me like a stranger.

Hopeful Christian who founded the New Zealand sect in 1969


Hopeful Christian who founded the New Zealand sect in 1969Credit: Youtube / 1news
Women were considered subordinate to men - forced to wear the headscarf


Women were considered subordinate to men – forced to wear the headscarfCredit: Youtube / 1news

“It was tough, but I wanted closure from the world I had left. Part of me still wondered what life was like in Gloriavale.

“It’s a tough world here, but it made me grateful to be here – there’s so much here that enlightens me.”

Former Gloriavale member Yvette Olsen also broke her silence in 2015 to say Christian sexually assaulted her three times when she was 19.

She called him a man of “unbridled lust”, “lies”, “absolute power” and a “dirty old man”.

Christian – who reportedly had 19 children with three wives – was eventually jailed on three counts of indecent assault on girls aged between 12 and 19.

He died in 2018 of prostate cancer, according to the New Zealand Herald.


A police investigation, concluded this year after two years, found that many of the sex offenses involved 61 people across multiple generations.

A police letter sent to Gloriavale in May revealed a list of places where horrific sexual abuse was taking place – including inside a dinosaur prop in the dining room, reports Stuff.

The list included an old car by the creek, the chicken coop, under the stage in the main area, a bike shed and all the shared toilets and bathrooms.

Former member Virginia Courage said she knew the sexual abuse had been going on for more than 20 years.

“There were more people coming out and saying it happened and you didn’t do anything,” she said.

“It was pretty heartbreaking…it was a big reason we left. It wasn’t just because of the abuse, but it was because you couldn’t get leaders to be honest about it. and do anything.”

In a statement released in May, Gloriavale executives said: “A lot has changed at Gloriavale since 2018 when, upon the death of our founder, leadership was transferred to a new leader.

“During this period, we have revised our governance and set new directions for our community.

“We are deeply saddened by the harm suffered by members of our community. We apologize for our role in the failure to prevent and protect victims of abuse.

“We seek to reach out to those who are no longer part of our community and encourage them and our current members to speak to us openly if they have been harmed in any way.”

He added: “Despite our best efforts to create a safe haven, we too have been hurt by discovering the extent of the sexual crimes that have occurred within our community.”


Another woman who fled, Connie Ready, said she and her siblings had been horribly beaten by her father, Clem Ready, for years.

Eventually, her father pleaded guilty to two counts of assault with a weapon.

She told Stuff, “Seeing my little sister dragged from the table where everyone is, to the next room, and I can hear her screaming, and I’m just sitting there…

“You can toughen up, you can build walls around you to protect yourself from pain, but every one of them crumbles when you look at someone as helpless as her, and there’s nothing you can do. do it.”

Connie said the beatings were relentless.

She said: “He might just be tired and come home from work he gets mad so he’ll throw something at you or kick you if he gets really mad he’ll grab whatever’s around and lay on top of you with and fight, you know, his belt, a coat hanger, one of his tools from his work bag.

Connie said she ultimately decided to flee the cult to explore her indigenous roots despite Gloriavale viewing Maori as “an evil, cannibalistic and demonic culture”.

She told Maori TV: “It was not something I should be proud to say or even openly say I was Maori.

“I had to step away for a while to give myself a chance to make that decision about what I wanted to do.

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“If that’s the choice you make, you know you’re leaving everything you know behind, you’re leaving all your childhood friends, all your whanau.

“You enter a world that you know nothing about and which can be really scary.”

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