India Oxenberg was 19 when she joined NXIVM—on the surface, a self-improvement program for the rich and famous; in reality, a front for a sex cult led by Keith Raniere. Her new memoir Still Learning, now available on Audible, revisits the years of emotional and physical abuse she endured as a member of NXIVM, offering an in-depth look at her long and complicated road to recovery.
In an exclusive ELLE.com audio excerpt, which you can listen to below, Oxenberg recalls an intimate conversation with former NXIVM recruiter Mark Vicente and high-ranking member Allison Mack—plus, what she describes as an uncomfortable sexual encounter with Raniere, who was sentenced to life in prison this week following a conviction for racketeering, sex trafficking, sexual exploitation of a child, and human trafficking.
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Oxenberg and her mother, Dynasty actress Catherine Oxenberg, first heard about NXIVM through a family friend back in 2011. It was positioned as a course for the entrepreneurially minded. Through enormous amounts of propaganda espoused by the group, Oxenberg slowly began to see its leader Raniere as both a mentor and a friend.
Five years in, she was asked to join “DOS,” the group’s ultra-secret society for women that operated as a pyramid with levels of “slaves” headed by “masters.” According to court documents reviewed by ELLE.com, prospective members were branded and forced to provide collateral in the form of damning videos or sexually explicit selfies before joining.
As Mack’s slave, Oxenberg was branded, starved, and “tasked” with degrading assignments. In Still Learning, Oxenberg recalls the moment Mack demanded she get naked in front of Raniere.
The room was filled with winter light, thin and cold. Outside, the snow-covered ground made me feel empty. Allison came over to me and sat down. She said, “One more thing, I think I’ve already told you this, but when you complete the assignment you need to ask Keith to take a naked photo of you to prove to me, your master, that you completed the assignment. Do you understand?”
Oxenberg, wanting to please Mack, sent Raniere an email asking him to meet that night. She said he responded “yes” right away.
I hurried into my clothes and jacket. I brushed my teeth. I glanced at myself in the mirror. I was in a rush, adrenaline coursing through me. He drove up in a car and signaled for me to get in. Then he drove me across the next row of townhouses. I’d heard that Keith sometimes used one of these townhouses, but I hadn’t known which one was his. We exited his car without much conversation. He opened the front door and stood aside, lightly gesturing me to enter. The layout was similar to Allison’s, but I sensed the place had not been lived in, and it had an upstairs and a scrawny avocado tree in the stairwell. It was dusty and smelled kind of dank, like wood varnish—like they had decided to renovate the kitchen, but then forgot about it.
At the townhouse, Oxenberg said that “one thing led to another, and then there I was, naked, sitting cross-legged on the edge of a bed in front of [Raniere].” When he looked “deeply” into her eyes, she felt uncomfortable. She recalls posing naked for Raniere, who took her photo to send to Mack.
Nothing more happened that night, but there were other nights when things did happen between me and Keith. But these incidents are housed in my head in a hazy blur. Sex with Keith was not intercourse, sex with Keith was him going down on me. Sex with Keith was him tracing my body with his gaze and his hands. He wanted me to feel grateful. And at the time, I was. Leaving his home that early morning, I believed that I had done something powerful that would benefit my growth. I felt like I had pushed against a big fear and that maybe, I could just cruise for a while in DOS.
Oxenberg left NXIVM for good in 2018. A New York tattoo artist covered up her brand with the inscription “ancora imparo,” which translates to “still learning,” the name of her memoir. Now she lives with her fiancé Patrick and their two cats in Venice Beach.
At Raniere’s sentencing on Tuesday, Oxenberg—one of 15 women to testify against him—reportedly recalled “the horror of hearing his voice in the darkness” as she got naked in front of him. “[I waited] like a piece of meat, a branded, brainwashed sex slave,’’ Oxenberg said, going on to describe Raniere as an “entitled little princess.”
He was sentenced to 120 years in prison for sex trafficking and other crimes, and ordered to pay a $1.75 million fine. Five women in Raniere’s inner circle were also charged in connection to NXIVM, including Seagram’s liquor heiress Clare Bronfman, who received 81 months in prison for her financial role in enabling the organization. Mack pleaded guilty in April 2019 to racketeering and racketeering conspiracy charges, including extortion and forced labor. She is yet to be sentenced.
In an interview with ELLE.com ahead of Raniere’s sentencing, Oxenberg said her memories of NXIVM will “never go away,” but for the first time in a long time she is happy. “I’ve proven to myself that I’m a lot more resilient than I ever thought,” she said. “My biggest sense of peace has come from figuring out what I’ve learned, not what I’ve lost.”
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