A former sex slave in the alleged cult NXIVM told a jury on Friday that leader Keith Raniere blindfolded her and bound her to a table where she was sexually assaulted by another slave. During the assault, she said Raniere walked around the table, making “demeaning” comments about her.
“He told me to get on the table, and he tied my legs and wrist,” said the woman, identified by prosecutors only as Nicole, in Brooklyn federal court. “The somebody started going down on me. I was trying to process what was happening and then Keith started talking and I was so confused. Then I realized somebody was in the room.”
Raniere, 58, is accused of running an alleged secret sex-cult pyramid scheme that enslaved and branded women while promoting NXIVM as a self-improvement group. He has pleaded not guilty to charges of sex trafficking, racketeering conspiracy, child exploitation, and child pornography.
Nicole, a 31-year-old actress from California, first became involved with NXIVM in 2016 after meeting Smallville actress and alleged slave master Allison Mack at an acting class. (Mack is among the four NXIVM members who were arrested in 2018 with Raniere. She pleaded guilty to racketeering charges in March and is expected to testify in court.)
After meeting Mack, Nicole said she traveled to the NXIVM compound in Albany, New York for Raniere’s 10-day birthday celebration in August 2016, known as “V Week,” a reference to his title “the Vanguard.” Nicole testified on Wednesday she was instantly underwhelmed by Raniere, whom NXIVM members referred to as the “smartest man in the world.”
“It just struck me as weird,” Nicole said on Wednesday. “How would you know somebody is the smartest man in the world? It just sounded like bullshit to me.”
Nicole said a few months later, after moving to New York City to pursue acting, she confided to Mack she was feeling “suicidal” and “overwhelmed.” In response, Nicole said, Mack encouraged her to join a secret women’s empowerment group within NXIVM known as DOS.
Prosecutors allege DOS forced “slaves” to have sex with Raniere and brand themselves with his initials near their crotch with a cautery pen—without anesthesia. In opening statements last month, Raniere’s attorney Marc Agnifilo called DOS a “women’s organization” that Raniere felt women needed.
“At the time I was really looking for something to be hopeful for,” Nicole said on Thursday, adding that Mack seemingly came to her rescue and “took [her] under her wing,” in February 2016.
Nicole said while DOS was “confusing” at first when Mack told her to be celibate for three months, it was also beneficial.
“It was stressful and scary to be constantly facing this commitment you can’t get out of,” Nicole said on Friday. “Allison was still being nice most of the time and helping me with career stuff so it was confusing.”
A week later, Nicole said, Mack told her to “reach out to Raniere” over Facebook. The initial request progressed quickly after Raniere replied, she said, and the pair began taking midnight walks whenever she was in Albany.
“Allison told me to tell Keith that I would do anything he wanted me to do. Then she told me to go be a good slave,” Nicole said, adding that while she said the words, Raniere did not feel the statement was “genuine” and commanded her to repeat it “when [she] meant it.”
The next night, Nicole said, she tried again, prompting Raniere to immediately “take her hand and take her across the street to another house.” Once inside the empty house, Raniere asked her if “[she] trust him, no matter what was about to happen.”
“I said yes,” Nicole said, saying Raniere then instructed her to take off all her clothes while he commented on her body.
When he was done, Raniere instructed her to get dressed and put on two blindfolds—one that was so tight it later “left marks” under her eyes. Raniere then took her hand, led her to a car, and drove her to an unknown location about 10 minutes away.
“He took me through the woods because I remember branches breaking under my feet,” Nicole said, adding that while she never saw the space, she “imagined it was a small cabin but I don’t know.”
Once inside the cabin, Raniere told her to undress and “get on the table” before tying her hands and feet with cloth straps.
“I remember the table was cold,” she said. “I felt super vulnerable and exposed and I was also hopeful that maybe that was it. Maybe the whole experience was just to make me feel vulnerable and exposed.”
Nicole said while she was shocked to feel somebody perform oral sex on her, she started to panic when she heard Raniere’s voice asking her questions while walking around the table.
“I thought, ‘Holy shit,’ somebody else is in the room. It was terrifying. How many people are in the room right now?” Nicole cried on Friday, while Raniere was talking to his lawyer across the courtroom.
Eventually, Nicole said she realized the third person in the room was a woman because she “felt hair down there.”
“I felt hair which, and in the circumstances, made me feel safer because I knew it was a woman and not a man in the room,” Nicole said.
Throughout the encounter, she said, Raniere asked Nicole questions about her sexual history and whether she would considering having a threesome.
After the encounter, Nicole said Raniere helped her dress and led her back to the car to go back to the original house. Once taking off the blindfolds, Raniere told her “nothing bad had just happened.”
“He told me I was very brave,” Nicole said. “Later that night, he texted me and told me I was very courageous.”
When Nicole told Mack about the encounter hours later, her “master” “seemed a little freaked out,” but also said “she was really brave.”
“Allison told me I had now earned the right to work more with Keith,” she said. Nicole added the night in the cabin spurred a sexual relationship with Raniere for another year, until she left DOS.
Nicole said Raniere, who divulged his connection with DOS in their next midnight walk, also confirmed the other person in the room was a woman, but she “would never know who.”
Prosecutors allege the mysterious woman in the cabin was Camila, the alleged victim of Raniere’s child-pornography charges who began having a sexual relationship with Raniere when she was 15. Three years later, she was allegedly forced to have an abortion, just like her two other sisters, after Raniere impregnated her.
Her eldest sister, Mariana, would eventually have a child with Raniere, while her other sister Daniela, would be kept in solitary confinement for two years in her bedroom after Raniere accused her of stealing and being with another man. Daniela returned to Mexico in 2012
“I don’t think I processed what actually happened to me for a really long time,” Nicole said. “I think anytime I was feeling uncomfortable I remembered I was stuck in DOS for the rest of my life, like I was told. I didn’t feel like I had a choice.”
Nicole said that as her time in DOS progressed—and her “master” acquired three more slaves—so did the intensity level of the “required” tasks.
In November 2016, she said Mack started demanding a “family photo,” in which the four women took off all of their clothes before being photographed. Every photo, Nicole said, would be sent to Keith.
“I hated it. It made me so angry because I felt more and more trapped,” Nicole said. “This was supposed to be a women’s empowerment organization. How is it empowering to send naked photos to a man? It didn’t feel empowering. It felt degrading.”
One of the four slaves, a doctor only identified by prosecutors as Danielle, was also assigned to begin learning how to use a cautery pen to eventually “engrave a symbol on all the DOS slaves.” After getting branded herself, Nicole said Danielle was tasked to do the same on her “slave sisters” at Mack’s house.
“We were told it was going to look like an ancient symbol to bind us together,” Nicole said.
Nicole said before the ceremony began, the women spent a lot of time measuring where the brand would go next to their crotch before undressing and entering Mack’s bedroom. At the center of the room was a massage table. Mack, she said, was sitting on the bed wearing all white.
As each woman laid down on the table, their hands and feet held down by other “slaves,” they were forced to recite a letter stating the brand symbolized “giving their lives to [their] master.”
“I did not want to mean any word of the letter,” Nicole said. “So I told myself, ‘I am doing this for my family.’”
The branding itself consisted of six lines, a process that took approximately 30 minutes, Nicole said. After watching her fellow slaves struggle under the pain of the cautery pen, Nicole said she forced herself to lay still on the table to prove DOS didn’t have power over her.
“It really, really fucking hurt,” Nicole said. “But I just disconnected from my body and I didn’t say a thing. I laid very still. Afterward, I could tell all the other slaves were really impressed. I was just angry.”