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Nxivm: the Cult That Enslaved Women

The leader of what is allegedly a New York-based cult was arrested in Mexico by the FBI at the end of last month.

His name is Keith Raniere and he has been accused of forcing women members to have sex with him by “brainwashing” them. If they refused, defected, or broke the secrecy rule, they ran the risk of being publicly humiliated by Raniere and the group.

Raniere founded a group called Nxivm (pronounced Nex-e-um) in the 1990s. He and his followers have called the organization a “self-help” or “marketing” group, but within the last few years a secret group has formed within the organization that experts have gone as far as to label an “extreme cult.”

United States officials issued a warrant for Raniere’s arrest earlier this year in relation to an ongoing federal grand jury investigation happening out of the United States attorney’s office in Brooklyn. Raniere was found living in a luxury villa near Puerto Vallarta with several women. The villa cost about $10,000 a week. Raniere fled the United States last November after American authorities started interviewing “witnesses and victims.”

There is currently a criminal complaint against Raniere that charges him with sex trafficking. If he’s found guilty, he could serve up to 15 years in prison. The complaint also provides details about the group that have been kept secret for years.

Raniere, who was known as “Vanguard” to the group, only allowed women to join the sorority if they sent the recruiter, known as “master,” nude pictures and other compromising items that were considered “collateral.” Group leaders threatened to expose these materials if members broke the secrecy code, thus humiliating the members and their families.

The Nxivm group also branded women just above their pelvis with a symbol similar to Raniere’s initials as a “tribute” to him.

“Not initially intended as my initials but they rearranged it slightly for tribute, (if it were abraham lincolns or bill gates initials no one would care,)” Raniere wrote in an email to a female follower.

Women were often forced to have sex with Raniere and do menial chores as well. Sex slaves were starved to keep them “skinny” as Raniere preferred. According to the complaint, he also sometimes offered money to women for sex and/or offered them a job, but if they defected he would demand the money back.

Prosecutors claim that Raniere “has a long-history of systemically exploiting women through coercive practices for his own financial and sexual benefit,” and that though he claims to not have much money, he “has spent his life profiting from pyramid schemes and has otherwise received financial backing from independently wealthy women,” such as Clare and Sara Bronfman, who are heiresses to the Seagram liquor company fortune.  

The Nxivm brand has released statements insisting that Raniere is innocent and that the women in the secret group were “thriving,” but it seems like no one really believes that. Raniere has long taken advantage of women, both financially and sexually, and deserves to be punished for it.

But there’s also the concern of the women who were part of the group. Many of them will likely need professional assistance to help them re-adjust to life outside of Raniere’s strange inner circle.

“I want to help all the young women affected by this cult,” Catherine Oxenberg, the mother of one of the group members, said. “They are the victims of human trafficking, which is slavery. I want my daughter to know I love her and that I want her back in my life.”

All we can do at this point is hope that prosecutors put Raniere behind bars and that the secret group is disbanded. Only when this happens can the women involved finally be allowed to find their way towards normal, safe, and healthy lives.

Featured Image by Christian Frausto Bernal on Flickr

Attribution-ShareAlike 2.0 Generic (CC BY-SA 2.0)

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