What Attracted Women to Nxivm Leader Keith Raniere’s Teachings?

The now-indicted 'sex-slave cult' leader offered members the illusion of self-control.

The NXIVM Executive Success Programs sign outside of the office at 455 New Karner Road on April 26, 2018 in Albany, New York. Keith Raniere, founder of NXIVM, was arrested by the FBI in Mexico in March of 2018. (Amy Luke/Getty Images)
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Keith Raniere was the 57-year-old founder of Nxivm, which billed itself as an organization that could heal individuals and transform the world. He claimed that the group would help teach members to rewire their emotional self.

In a devastating exposé, the New York Times has reported on the alarming practices of Raniere’s group, where some female members, who called themselves “masters,” had initiated other women, calling themselves “slaves,” into a ritual of sisterhood at homes. The women would strip naked then lay one by one on a massage table while a Nxivm member used a cauterizing pen to brand the flesh near their pelvic bone with a K and an R, Raniere’s initials. A federal investigation found Nxivm to be a “sex-slave cult” and Raniere has since been arrested. So has Allison Mack, a former actress from Smallville. They both have been charged with sex trafficking and conspiracy to commit sex trafficking and forced labor.

So why did members join this sex cult? According to some former members, they saw Nxivm as an way to embrace self-empowerment. Raniere presented himself as a great philosopher, an ethical man and a scientist. He devised courses and advocated for exercise and healthy eating. Members believed he could heal them of emotional traumas, help them work through fears and attachments, and clear patterns of destructive thinking. Raniere’s teachings seemed to resonate mainly with wealthy women.

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