A leading journalist on cults doubts Gloriavale can be reformed and says it needs to be closed down.

Anke Richter has been researching cults for more than a decade and is the author of Cult Trip: Inside the world of coercion & control. The book looks at “how and why cults attract, entrap, and destroy otherwise ordinary people”.

She told 1News that sometimes it can be difficult to spot what a cult looks like but says with Gloriavale it’s obvious, given the charismatic leader, the high level of control, the uniformity, and the lack of individuality.

“As we know now and have known for a long time the exploitation, the level of abuse, the coercion, the enslaving of people, one hundred per cent that’s a cult.”

Richter’s comments come after the Gloriavale Leavers’ Trust released a discussion document, where it asks former residents what needs to happen if the West Coast commune continues and what a suitable ending would look like.

Trust manager Liz Gregory said the document does not seek to establish whether reform or closure is a preferred path, but rather what leavers would like to see if either of those options play out.

In response, a Gloriavale community spokesman said they were looking to the future.

“Although the views of leavers and the Leavers’ Trust have value in an informational sense, they need to consult with Gloriavale members before making strategic announcements for Gloriavale’s future.”

“The community remains committed to working with the New Zealand Government and other appropriate stakeholders to ensure that Gloriavale is sustainable for future generations, which is the appropriate course of action,” the spokesman said.

The West Coast commune has faced years of allegations of forced labour, slavery, and sexual and physical abuse, with the current Overseeing Shepherd Howard Temple facing charges of indecent assault. He has pleaded not guilty to all charges and has elected a judge alone trial.

Richter said given the level of control and the lack of any autonomy, she struggles to see how Gloriavale can change for the better.

“You have been indoctrinated all your life that the outside world is evil and the devil is out to get you.

“There’s a lot of mistrust of authorities from the outside, doctors, therapists, social workers.

“People in Gloriavale are so steep in the belief that it’s always your faith that affects all problems, so to even seek help for some physical problems, let alone mentally, is such a big leap,” Richter said.

New Zealand’s judiciary, the Government, and public agencies are being asked to take the issue more seriously and to “get some cult education”.

Richter said there should be a minister not just for Gloriavale but for abuse groups across the board “because there are so many other groups and people who don’t get the same publicity”.

It’s estimated there are dozens of groups like Gloriavale in New Zealand, including those from overseas who have branches here.

“There are about 100,000 New Zealanders somewhat affected. That means if someone has disappeared into a group and left a family behind, or someone comes out of a group, it affects the whole family,” Richter said.

If Gloriavale were to close, then Richter said a proper resettlement programme would need to be set up, similar to what’s offered to refugees.

She said despite being from New Zealand and speaking English, Gloriavale residents have less understanding of life on the outside than people who have arrived from other countries.