Daughter India has now found love and is trying to piece her life back together after enduring painful branding, starvation diets and losing her entire inheritance to NXIVM
ACTRESS Catherine Oxenberg says she feared for her life as she worked to dismantle a crazed sex slave cult – and rescue her daughter India and others from its clutches.
Catherine, who grew up in Britain before starring in Dynasty in the 80s, said she endured terrifying threats, legal letters saying she would be thrown in jail and feared both she and India would end up dead – as she battled against NXIVM, a dangerous cult masquerading as a self-help group.
In an exclusive interview with Sun Online, the mum-of-four revealed how India, now 27, is now safe and “in a really good place”.
NXIVM’s founder Keith Raniere and his alleged “deputy”, actress Allison Mack, were arrested on a slew of charges relating to the cult – including sex trafficking and conspiracy to commit forced labour – earlier this year. Raniere is currently in prison – and Mack on house arrest as they await trial in October.
Catherine, 56, has now written a book called Captive about her nightmarish journey to save India – and how she and the NXIVM’s former publicist Frank Parlato risked their lives to expose and destroy the group.
She said: “This was a dangerous group and I had witnessed what they had done to other people, but I also I discovered I’m the type of parent that would be willing to take a bullet for my child and I couldn’t stop.
“I didn’t care what it costs me because I wouldn’t stop until I knew she was safe.
“This whole journey for me, the burden, the weight that I felt not knowing if my daughter was going to be okay. I felt like I was in hell.
“And just now the feeling of what it’s like to come out of hell and feeling the relief of that burden.
“People said I seemed like I was wearing this cloak of darkness. And I was – I never in my life felt so incredibly burdened and grief stricken.”
Catherine and India first attended a NXIVM seminar in 2011 in Venice, California, believing it to be a business skills course.
It wasn’t long before Catherine realized the truth – but by then India was already being brainwashed and sucked deeper into the group.
India, only 20 at the time, spent thousands on more NXIVM course and eventually left her home in Malibu and moved to Albany, New York, to be nearer the NXIVM’s headquarters.
It was here she fell under leader Raniere’s spell, and joined a secretive and disturbing sect at the core of NXIVM, a master-slave cult which branded, beat and starved women called DOS.
DOS – which claimed to be a “badass” female empowerment group forced each member to hand over damaging collateral each month – including naked pictures, vows of obedience and taped confessions about their family members, which they threatened to release should they ever leave.
Many of the DOS women were told to have sex with leader Raniere as a way of achieving “enlightenment” as well as being branded on her pubic area with he initials of Raniere and Mack.
When Catherine discovered what was happening she “lost her mind”.
“I wasn’t happy with India’s involvement in NXIVM, but I had no idea what was really going on beneath the surface until a young woman, a defector, who reached out to me and said ‘You have to save her’,” she said.
“She started to explain the dynamics of what was going on, that there was this slave-master hierarchy that these women were being recruited, under the pretext of being involved with the female empowerment group and that actually Keith Raneire was orchestrating the whole thing as their ultimate master. None of them knew this.
“So all of the practices of this group were based on deception, coercion and manipulation.
“In order to gain admission, they had to give damaging collateral that would be ruinous if it was ever revealed.
“If Keith wanted them for himself – for his own sexual gratification – they were put on these very strict diets, between 500 and 800 calories a day, which is starvation.
“Then I found out about the branding and I think at that point I lost my mind. If it wasn’t bad enough already – with the recruiting for sex and the slaves having to recruit more young women aggressively. It was growing like an evil vine.
“Each ‘slave’ was pressured to recruit between five to six slaves of her own so it had the potential to spread dangerously – Keith’s own lawyer admitted 150 women had been recruited into DOS.
“From what I understood, the women had to be held down by the other women in their slave cell.
“They would hold down their legs and their arms because they would be struggling to get free, it’s just excruciating and it took them 30-40 minutes for the entire procedure.
“I’m just imagining that my daughter had been subjected to this. How is that even possible?
“So I knew that my mission was to rescue her from an environment that was encouraging this level of abuse against women and cruelty and making sure that nobody else was subjected to this type of torture.”
Catherine teamed up with Frank Parlato, NXIVM’s former publicist who had turned against the group and first exposed them as a cult.
Together the pair risked their lives, receiving numerous death threats, as they tried to expose the NXIVM, help women leave the group and collect evidence that would ultimately lead to the arrests and indictment.
Catherine added: “I heard through the grapevine that they were planning on suing me and that I was going to be put in jail.
“I was warned not to go to Mexico because I would get killed. I received threat letters from Mexican attorneys and a Mexican state attorney general that were issued by Emiliano Salinas who runs NXIVM, Mexico. And a lawsuit accusing me of fraud and extortion.”
Frank added: “One of my sources told me they’d hired two people to assassinate us and they even described how they were going to find us and how they were going to do it.
“I would receive death threats over the phone, emails – and for a long time we were out on our own against this group. It was a lonely four months just me and Catherine up against all these forces.
“It was definitely a risk, there were threatening letters from Mexico where lawlessness is commonplace. We knew if either one of us went to Mexico we’d never come back.
“We were Raniere’s public enemies number one and two.
“It was terrifying but that was dwarfed by the joy we got from all these women who were escaping the cult and coming to us one after the other and saying thank you.
“We stopped many women from even being branded – once we started exposing it they started cancelling the branding.”
Throughout it all Catherine’s biggest fear was that she’d lose her beloved daughter – either through a suicide pact or worse.
“There was a moment when I was convinced that they were all involved in some suicide pact,” she said.
“I felt that perhaps Keith needed some sort of distraction to take the attention away from what he was doing and maybe get some poor young woman to do that and I thought, what if it’s India because it would be a perfect way to punish her mum for causing the demise of his group.”
Catherine and Frank compiled files of evidence to law enforcement and eventually in March this year Raniere was arrested, quickly followed by Allison Mack and other high profile members.
As the cult collapsed around her, India found work at a vegan restaurant in New York before finding love and finally returning home to Malibu where she is now trying to put her life back together.
“India is in a really good place,” Catherine said. “She’s moving forward with her life and of course I want to share everything about the time that we spend together, which I’m treasuring after a long period of estrangement, but I’m as protective of privacy as I have been for her safety.
“I have watched other young women come out of NXIVM and this transition period is a very fragile moment in these women’s lives where everything that they believed has imploded and most of them have asked the question ‘was everything I believed in a lie?’ and it’s a very frightening moment. I would liken it to an identity crisis.
“I want to make very clear to people is that this was no 50 Shades of Grey. This was not consenting adults.
“This was a coercive, exploitive, dangerous group that was abusing women and it needed to be stopped.”
Catherine’s book Captive is out now.