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Everything we learned from 'Seduced,' the 4-part docuseries on alleged sex cult Nxivm

Everything we learned from 'Seduced,' the 4-part docuseries on alleged sex cult Nxivm
LifeScience1 min read
India Oxenberg.Courtesy of STARZ
  • The new Starz docuseries "Seduced" centers around former Nxivm sex slave India Oxenberg, who executive-produced the four-part series.
  • "Seduced" offers intimate details about Nxivm founder Keith Raniere's brainwashing methods, especially those allegedly he used to manipulate some women members into sex.
  • Raniere, who will serve a lifetime prison sentence for child sex trafficking and conspiracy to commit forced labor, orchestrated the branding of his initials, sharing of private information, and sexual abuse, according to the series.

In the years leading up to Nxivm founder and leader Keith Raniere's sentencing to life in prison on October 26, former members of the alleged sex cult endured psychological, and sometimes physical, abuse and manipulation.

The four-part docuseries "Seduced" on streaming platform Starz walks viewers through how Nxivm members joined the group with intentions of finding personal fulfillment, but ended up Raniere's pawns.

India Oxenberg, who executive produced "Seduced" and said she became a sex slave in Nxivm's secret sorority DOS, detailed how she was brainwashed despite the red flags she and others saw.

Unlike the HBO docuseries "The Vow," which focuses on Oxenberg's mother Catherine as she attempts to convince Oxenberg to leave Nxivm, "Seduced" centers around Oxenberg's story after she left and reveals new details about the insidious nature of Raniere's methods.

India's mother, actress Catherine Oxenberg, introduced her to Nxivm.

India Oxenberg and her mother, Catherine Oxenberg.      YouTube/Good Morning America

Former members learned about Nxivm through friends and family who were impressed by their self-help courses, and Oxenberg was no different.

Her mother, "Dynasty" actress Catherine Oxenberg, heard about Nxivm courses through a trusted friend who said her business grew after taking just one class. During that conversation, Oxenberg happened to be home, so she signed up for the course and attended along side her mother.

Catherine said she's still grappling with her role in her daughter's involvement to this day.

"One of the hardest things for me to reconcile is I was the one who introduced India to Nxivm and that I did not recognize the warning signs, the red flags," she said in "Seduced."

Jennifer Aniston and Gerard Butler took Nxivm courses.

Jennifer Aniston and Gerard Butler took Nxivm courses.
Jennifer Aniston in 1997.      Dave Allocca/DMI/The LIFE Picture Collection/Getty Images

Nxivm lured in the rich and famous, like Seagrams heiresses Sara and Clare Bronfman and wealthy Mexican politicians' families, so they could recruit even more people in their elite networks and use their fortunes to fund legal battles.

But they also used people's celebrity statuses to make the group seem more authoritative, Oxenberg said in "Seduced."

After a celebrity took Nxivm's introductory course, they'd tout that person's name to entice others into the courses.

According to Oxenberg, high-ranking members would mention how Jennifer Aniston, Gerard Butler, and Sir Richard Branson took Nxivm classes, even if they didn't become full-fledged members and take more courses.

Sometimes, Oxenberg met these high-profile people in person at the introductory courses.

"There were entrepreneurs and strong powerful women like Rosario Dawson, who I just got to strike up a conversation with. I was impressed," Oxenberg said in the docuseries.

Nxivm seminars were designed to burn out members, cult researchers said.

Nxivm seminars were designed to burn out members, cult researchers said.
The exterior of the NXIVM Executive Success Programs office at 455 New Karner Road on April 26, 2018 in Albany, New York.      (Photo by Amy Luke/Getty Images

To an outsider, the accountability exercises Nxivm members would partake in, like waking up at 3 AM for a cold shower or sleeping on the ground, might seem outlandish.

But these non-stop requirements were purposeful, cult researchers in "Seduced" explained.

These drills, plus the week-long "Vanguard Week" camping-trip-meets-seminar to celebrate Raniere's birthday, wore down members so they'd be exhausted and easier to influence.

"What Keith was a genius at was tweaking and working this curriculum with the deliberate attempt of breaking people down," cult researcher Rick Alan Ross told Oxenberg in "Seduced."

Ross said this is called a "high arousal technique" and said it's used to keep cult followers busy and addicted to feelings of happiness and contentment so they don't ask questions and want to keep coming back.

Raniere kissed members on the lips.

Raniere kissed members on the lips.

Footage in "The Vow" and "Seduced" show Raniere kissing Nxivm members, both men and women, on the lips following seminars.

Raniere denied he was dating anyone in the group, and made the kisses out to be the way Nxivm members greeted each other.

But if a member opposed a kiss, they were intentionally embarrassed and asked to think about their aversion, Oxenberg said in "Seduced."

She said this framing was a way to make Nxivm members feel dumb and like any hesitation they had was a personal failing, so they'd fall deeper into Raniere's influence.

Members were asked to wear electrode caps for psychology experiments.

Members were asked to wear electrode caps for psychology experiments.
The NXIVM Executive Success Programs sign outside of the office at 455 New Karner Road on April 26, 2018 in Albany, New York.      Photo by Amy Luke/Getty Images

Oxenberg also said that members were often asked to wear electrode caps, head-shaped pieces of fabric with wires attached that can track and record brain wave patterns, while discussing past traumas or watching traumatic videos.

Brandon B. Porter was the Nxivm member who spearheaded this initiative and later was charged with medical misconduct following Raniere's arrest in 2015.

In "Seduced," one anonymous former member recalled that Porter sat women members in chairs and showed them images and videos of abuse while they wore electrode caps. He filmed how they reacted to tapes of women getting their heads cut off and Mexican drug lords holding the heads in the air, the anonymous source said.

India needed 50 hours of therapy to admit Raniere sexually abused her.

India needed 50 hours of therapy to admit Raniere sexually abused her.
India Oxenberg.      Courtesy of STARZ

Former members have mentioned the amount of therapy and support they've needed in their recoveries, but Oxenberg took it a step further, getting specific about how much time it's taken for her to comes to terms with her trauma.

In the first part of "Seduced," Oxenberg said it took her 50 hours of therapy to be able to admit Raniere sexually abused her.

Mark Vicente guilt-tripped India when she didn't prioritize Nxivm.

HBO's "The Vow" focuses on Vicente's life after he left Nxivm, but "Seduced" offers more insight into his role in the organization.

Vicente met Raniere while on a vacation and after they hit it off, Vicente joined Nxivm. He soon rose to the top of the ranks, and Raniere recruited him to document various self-help courses and group meetings for a future documentary on Raniere's work and impact.

But after Vicente's wife Bonnie Piesse left Nxivm, Vicente came to realize the group's insidious nature and left himself.

During his time there, however, Vicente unknowingly helped Raniere keep members in the cult.

In "Seduced," Oxenberg recalled that Vicente guilt-tripped her into staying with the group, crying to her at one point because he felt she wasn't working hard enough.

Oxenberg, who had previously dabbled in the entertainment industry, had agreed to work on a movie set in Belgrade, Serbia, a job her mother set up for her.

But doing so required she leave Nxivm headquarters and her coaching job there temporarily. She said she received pushback from higher-ups like Vicente, but went anyway.

Once she was there, they continued to call and text her non-stop so she couldn't mentally escape the group, even for a moment, Oxenberg recalled.

Raniere said rape was a way to claim victimization.

Raniere said rape was a way to claim victimization.
REUTERS/Jane Rosenberg

"Seduced" contains footage of Raniere teaching various Nxivm courses.

His rhetoric shed light on his underlying beliefs, like the idea that victimization is a mindset in any and all circumstances.

In one clip, Raniere went as far to suggest the word "rape" comes from a singular person, the victim, and their perspective. He said that rape is victimization strategy, and that there must be more than one side to every story if a supposed rapist enjoyed the experience.

These clips illustrated why Raniere felt entitled to women.

There were 150 known DOS sex slaves.

There were 150 known DOS sex slaves.
Yutong Yuan/Business Insider

Like Nxivm itself, DOS, the secret sex-slave sorority within the organization, operated as a pyramid scheme, according to the docuseries.

Members in both Nxivm and DOS were required to recruit new members, who reported to them. In Nxivm, new recruits reported to coaches, while in DOS, "slaves" reported to their "masters."

Each master had multiple slaves, Oxenberg said, and they were called "pods."

The slaves weren't told how many pods there were in total, or how many women were in each pod, but investigations presented in "Seduced" showed there were at least 150 DOS sex slaves.

In 2003, a Nxivm follower disappeared from training and never returned.

In 2003, a Nxivm follower disappeared from training and never returned.
In this courtroom sketch Keith Raniere, second from right, leader of the secretive group NXIVM, attends a court hearing Friday, April 13, 2018.      Elizabeth Williams via AP

Though much of the media coverage on Nxivm focuses on former members who escaped and worked towards recovering from cult-induced trauma, others weren't as lucky.

"Seduced" said Nxivm trainings would sometimes lead members to have mental breakdowns, and in one case, led to a member leaving a suicide note. She was never found.

Ana Cecilia, who was in Nxivm for 6 months starting in 2002, recounted what she described as a "psychotic break" after taking a series of Nxivm courses in Albany headquarters.

Cecilia traveled there from Mexico, and said both the course and co-founder Nancy Salzman's comments made her question what was real and what was fake, to the point she was sent back to her hotel room to rest. When her boyfriend came to check on her and take her back to the Nxivm course, she said she ran out of the hotel naked, screaming, and making a scene.

Then, in 2003, member Kristin Marie Snyder disappeared during a Nxivm training, according to the docuseries. Former members said in "Seduced" that she left a suicide note mentioning how the trainings brainwashed her, but she was never seen again.


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