Odd Enough What is NXIVM? Inside this sex slave cult with terrifying allegations of abuse

NXIVM, a secret sexually-charged "sorority," is allegedly recruiting women, branding them, and perhaps holding them against their will.

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Last month, the New York Times published a harrowing investigative piece about a secret organization called NXIVM.

Although the Albany-based group brands itself as a self-help organization, the piece alleges that leader Keith Raniere has been using NXIVM as a cover for a dangerous cult that reportedly recruits women to have sex with him, brands them with a cattle prod, and hold them against their will.

Recently, Frank Parlato, a former member of NXIVM, revealed that Smallville actress Allison Mack is a high-ranking member of the group. (While Mack hasn't responded to these claims, her website does say that she was "mentored" by Raniere.) Following the New York Timespiece, former members and relatives of current members, including Dynasty actress Catherine Oxenberg, are also coming forward with allegations about the dark underbelly of the organization, prompting many to wonder: What, exactly, is NXIVM?

A self-proclaimed “professional development company,” NXIVM (pronounced Nex-e-um) works according to a multi-level marketing (MLM) model, selling seminars and classes to "help transform and, ultimately, be an expression of the noble civilization of humans,” according to its website. Since its inception in 1998, tens of thousands have enrolled in the courses offered through NXIVM, all of which offer guidance for personal and professional development. Raniere, 57, has positioned himself as a self-help and spiritual guru, poised to guide people along this journey.

While many members may take the courses or workshops and leave, like any successful MLM, NXIVM’s success depends on those who devote themselves to recruiting more members. But former members claim that Raniere, who is reportedly referred to as “Vanguard” within the group, did not just take his followers’ money, but is holding them against their will.

According to the New York Times piece, the secret “sorority” brands women and holds damning collateral, such as nude photos or letters detailing crimes or other indiscretions, on each member to prevent them from ever leaving or speaking out.

Actress and former member Sarah Edmondson told the New York Times that before she joined the group, she was told she would be part of a “force for good” that could transform the world. As part of her initiation into the “secret sisterhood” of NXIVM, she says she was told she would be given a small tattoo. Instead, she claims she was branded with a cauterizing tool, a horrifying experience that took about half an hour.

Raniere has also been accused of brainwashing members, demanding their total obedience in exchange for spiritual self-improvement. Many who have left NXIVM have alleged that the group recruits female followers to have sex with Raniere out of the belief that they will be “healed."

Dynasty actress Catherine Oxenberg also alleges that her daughter India was also initiated into the cult. She told People that when she last saw her daughter, she was emaciated and told her she was not allowed to eat more than 800 calories per day. “I’m helpless. I’ve lost my child and will do whatever I can to get her back,” Oxenberg told People.

Following the publication of these allegations, NXIVM denied them in a statement on its website (which now appears to be shut down), referring to the New York Times story as “a criminal product of criminal minds.”

Yet Oxenberg, who is encouraging New York state prosecutors to investigate the cult, told the New York Post that the former members she had spoken with confirm the Times reports. “Some people have said this is a voluntary sorority. The women I have spoken to tell a far different story,” Oxenberg said. “Coercion is not voluntary. Extortion is not voluntary. Blackmail is not voluntary.”

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