Inside Nxivm, the Cult That Branded and Blackmailed Women

The Times investigates the group that New York state officials have declined to take action against.

October 18, 2017 9:27 am

A new investigative piece by the New York Times looks into Nxivm, a group that claims to be designed to “bring about greater self-fulfillment by eliminating psychological and emotional barriers.” Since the late 1990s, about 16,000 people have enrolled in courses offered by Nxivm, and though some people take a course and move on, others have become followers of its leader, Keith Raniere, giving up their lives, families, and careers for it.

The New York Times writes that there is also a secretive women’s group within Nxivm. Last March, five women gathered near Albany to enter the secret sisterhood, which they thought was about empowering women. The women were forced to give naked photographs or other compromising material beforehand, as collateral if any information about the group was ever disclosed. Then, the women were told to undress, and one-by-one, they were branded by a doctor using a cauterizing device.

“I wept the whole time,” Sarah Edmondson, one of the participants, told the New York Times. “I disassociated out of my body.”

Nxivm and Raniere have both long attracted controversy, the Times reports. Former members have said that Raniere “manipulated his adherents, had sex with them and urged women to follow near-starvation diets to achieve the type of physique he found appealing.”

Members are now leaving as talk about the secret sisterhood and branding has circulated within Nxivm. Through interviews with former members, The Times is able to piece together a picture of a group that is “spinning more deeply into disturbing practices.” Many members were worried that their confessions about their indiscretions, which Nxivm still has, would be used to blackmail them.

According to The Times, several former members have asked state authorities to investigate the group’s practices, but each time, officials have declined to pursue action, including a suit filed against Danielle Robert, a licensed osteopath and follower of Raniere, who performed the branding. The New York Department of Health said it would not look into Roberts because she was not acting as Edmondson’s doctor when the branding is said to have happened.

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