How Keith Raniere lured scores of young women into sex slave cult NXIVM
Camila became a sex slave as a young girl not long after she moved with her family from Mexico to New York. But it wasn’t until years later, when she was 25, that she realized she wasn’t the only one.
The revelation came from Keith Raniere, the leader of self-help company Nxivm (pronounced “Nexium”) based in Albany, NY. Camila — her last name is protected by court order — first became involved in the organization at 13, when her parents signed her up for Nxivm’s life-coaching program. Her first conversation with Raniere was about her eighth-grade spelling bee.
A few years later, she moved with her older sisters, Daniela and Marianna, from Mexico to Albany. Without her parents’ knowledge — they were devoted members and occasional coaches for Nxivm, and trusted Raniere implicitly — Raniere set up Camila in “a Clifton Park apartment outfitted with dark velvet curtains blocking out any view inside,” writes investigative journalist Sarah Berman in her new book, “Don’t Call It a Cult: The Shocking Story of Keith Raniere and the Women of Nxivm” (Steerforth), out Tuesday.
In text messages to Camila, Raniere called it “our home” and he visited her often, without other adult supervision. “Even Camila’s close friends and family didn’t know where she lived,” Berman writes.
According to Camila’s court testimony, Raniere took naked photos of her and raped her in September 2005, when she was just 15. But it took another decade before she learned the full scope of Raniere’s sinister plans.
In a series of text messages on October 9, 2015, Raniere told her about a secret Nxivm subgroup he was building, a women’s empowerment sorority called DOS, or Dominus Obsequious Sororium — a fake Latin phrase roughly translating to “master over the slave women.” He described it as “a badass bitch boot camp,” writes Berman. “Some women even talked about it as if it were an elite talent agency … like the Freemasons but for women wanting to build character and change the world.”
The truth, however, was that it was a twisted sex cult, with “first-line” masters and sex slaves, all serving the needs of Raniere, known to his acolytes as Vanguard or Grandmaster. “Both the masters and the slaves were all women,” writes Berman. “Everything about their lives, from what they ate or wore to when they cut their hair, Raniere controlled.”
Every slave would “be branded with my monogram plus a number,” Raniere texted to Camila. “Your number is reserved. It is number 1. It is now a secret growing organization.”
Camila was not happy with Raniere’s plans to brand her.
“Branded like cattle?” she asked. “You want to burn me?”
“You don’t want to burn for me?” Raniere, now 60, responded.
The branding ceremony was a terrifying event. Sarah Edmondson, 43, an aspiring actress from Canada and one of the first former members to go public about Nxivm, told the author about being inducted into DOS with four other women, who took turns holding each other down, naked, while a doctor used a cauterizing pen to carve Raniere’s initials and a cryptic symbol near their pelvises — with no anesthetic.
“We were crying, we were shaking, we were holding each other,” she told Berman. “It was horrific. It was like a bad horror movie. We even had these surgical masks on because the smell of [burning] flesh was so strong