As India Oxenberg walks calmly around the garden of a house in Albany, New York, she gestures towards a window.
‘That was where it happened. I was the first woman in my group of slaves to be branded,’ the daughter of Dynasty star Catherine Oxenberg explains matter-of-factly.
‘The smell that came from the cauterising pen burning my flesh was so intense that it filled up the entire townhouse. It was torture — but I still went through with it.
‘How do you even begin to explain something like this?’
How indeed. Two new documentary series coming to the UK have attempted to do so, investigating the deeply disturbing scandal of the Nxivm (pronounced nexium) cult and the young women — including India — who fell so far under its spell that they were willing to become sex slaves and be branded with the initials of the group’s founder.
India — just 19 when she became embroiled in the group after she and her mother took one of its ‘self-help’ ESP (executive success programmes) — became perhaps its most famous member thanks to Catherine’s celebrity and her relentless efforts to raise the alarm about Nxivm and free India from its clutches.
India Oxenberg (above), the daughter of Dynasty star Catherine Oxenberg, became embroiled in DOS, a secret sorority within the Nxivm (pronounced nexium) cult, when she was just 19
Now its founder, Keith Raniere, who once portentously called himself Vanguard, is in prison awaiting sentencing after being convicted of sex trafficking, racketeering and possessing child pornography.
Also behind bars are some of his chief confederates, including the Seagram drinks empire heiress Clare Bronfman and Hollywood actress Allison Mack.
It was Mack, says 29-year-old India, who lured her into joining DOS, a secret sorority within Nxivm whose young members were forced by threat of blackmail to serve as branded slaves to senior members and the sexual chattels of Raniere.
India is now speaking for the first time about her seven-year nightmare in Seduced: Inside The Nxivm Cult, a four-part documentary series that premieres on StarzPlay on Sunday.
Given the many months her mother spent trying to get her away from Nxivm, it’s ironic that India would never have come into contact with it if she had not agreed on the spur of the moment to accompany Catherine one night in 2011 to an introductory Nxivm session in Los Angeles.
India — shy, idealistic and looking for a purpose after dropping out of college — was the one who fell under its spell.
The group, founded in 1998, claimed that some 17,000 people including Hollywood stars and billionaire businessmen had taken its expensive courses.
Cult experts say Nxivm’s bold claims that it was empowering people to improve the world were just a cover for the depraved abuse of vulnerable young women.
It was no coincidence, they add, that attractive young women — including models and actors — were rapidly promoted up the ranks.
‘I went into this looking for a more purposeful life and I thought these people wanted that too,’ says India.
She and her mother kick themselves for missing so many danger signs. In their first Nxivm meeting, the pair were split up.
Raniere was particularly keen on hooking the famous Catherine — daughter of Princess Elizabeth of Yugoslavia and cousin of the Prince of Wales, but best known as Joan Collins’ headstrong daughter Amanda Carrington in Dynasty — but they told her she was too ‘defiant’.
And they wanted compliance not defiance as they gradually brainwashed often impressionable people with pseudoscience and psychobabble, grinding down their defences still further with exhaustive schedules, and food and sleep deprivation.
Raniere’s key argument was that pain and discomfort only strengthened people.
The former marketing executive with a chequered business past developed a messiah complex that, unfortunately, many of his followers swallowed.
Seduced — along with The Vow, a similar series by HBO and coming to Sky Documentaries next month — makes for enthralling but harrowing viewing, using testimony from former Nxivm members and disturbing videos, filmed by the group and never intended for public consumption, of courses it ran and interviews with the glib Raniere.
The group’s founder, Keith Raniere, is in prison awaiting sentencing after being convicted of sex trafficking, racketeering and possessing child pornography
Within months, India’s ‘entire life became Nxivm related’ as she took course after course, each costing thousands of dollars and extolling Vanguard’s enlightened genius.
‘He was this great philosopher. I felt like I would die for Keith,’ she says.
In 2015, Allison Mack, the star of the Superman series Smallville, quietly invited her to join the secret sorority known both as DOS and The Vow.
Mack would be India’s master but she first had to provide ‘collateral’ — such as an explicit photo or a compromising personal secret — that could be used against them if they ever reneged on a vow of obedience that was supposedly for life.
India — whose father, William Shaffer, is a convicted international drug trafficker — disclosed an intimate secret about her family.
The DOS regime was brutal. If she didn’t obey Mack’s commands, relayed by mobile phone text messages, she would be punished by doing ‘penances’ such as standing in the snow at 3am or being smacked with a bamboo paddle.
Raniere bought handcuffs, leather straps and a cage from sadomasochism websites and encouraged ‘masters’ to put their slaves in them.
When Mack — one of Raniere’s own ‘slaves’ — felt she needed to be punished, she wore a cilice, a medieval-like undergarment of painful, needle-like wires.
After Mack sent Raniere a picture of India in her underwear, he decided she had to drop to just 7 st 8 lb. Mack put her on a strict diet of just 500 calories a day.
It was supposedly another exercise in self-restraint but actually it was simply because Raniere craved thin women.
India’s all-consuming life as a DOS slave took a terrifying turn when Mack told her that her next assignment was to ‘seduce Keith’, yet another act, she said, that would ‘push her past her comfort zone and make her stronger’.
India was surprised because they had been told that Raniere — small, chubby and so cross-eyed he had an almost hypnotic stare — was celibate.
In fact, he was sleeping with all the women in his inner circle while insisting they each remained monogamous with him.
India recalls how her ‘seduction’ of Raniere began with his taking her to one of his many houses in Clifton Park, a suburb of Albany.
She says in Seduced. ‘He talked to me about what I wanted and how he could help me. I remember him standing there and staring at me. I felt embarrassed and uncomfortable. I didn’t feel like I had a choice. I just wanted to get it over with.’
India now says that the master predator groomed and raped her. It was the first in a series of deeply unsettling sexual encounters that continued for a year.
‘They were so clinical — it was like going to the doctor,’ she says.
India — who had moved from California to Albany and become Mack’s live-in servant — was gradually starving, her hair falling out and her periods stopping. She discovered that Mack had three other slaves, including an osteopath.
India describes how the bubbly but Machiavellian actress once took the four of them on a weekend trip to the country, claiming it was just for fun. As soon as they got there, she made them strip naked and took a photo of them which she texted to Raniere.
In January 2016, Allison Mack told India that, to show her commitment to DOS, she was going to be branded in her pelvic area. It had been designed by Raniere based on his initials
‘All mine?’ he replied, including a devil face emoji. When one of them complained they shouldn’t be doing this for Raniere’s titillation, Mack made them pose for even more explicit photos.
Raniere singled out India for special attention, regularly demanding she text him explicit photos of herself. ‘Keith told me that sending these photos was a practice in pushing myself out of my comfort zone,’ she says.
She never questioned demands, saying: ‘I believed that the things they were having me do were, at their core, good.’
Although DOS never grew beyond around 150 women, Raniere envisaged it rapidly recruiting thousands of members, eventually — he boasted — enough to change the course of a presidential election.
After a year in DOS and exhausted, India was ordered to recruit her own slaves and, reluctantly, found three including — awkwardly — one of her friends.
Catherine Oxenberg had not spoken to India for months and was increasingly convinced she had lost her for good.
‘I had been to Albany and seen there was this group of women — in their 40s, 50s, 60s — who had given up their lives to serve Keith and the organisation,’ she tells Seduced. ‘I just couldn’t wrap my head around this being my daughter’s future.’
In January 2016, Mack told India that, to show her commitment to DOS, she was going to be branded, along with Mack’s other slaves, in her pelvic area.
The osteopath in their group, Dr Danielle Roberts, would do the procedure with a hot, cauterising pen. Having never done it before, she first practised on an orange.
‘We walked one-by-one into Alison’s bedroom fully naked,’ India says.
One of the other slaves held her feet and another her hands ‘so that I wouldn’t convulse’.
Mack intoned the ceremony’s laughable script, which included the line: ‘The best slave derives the highest pleasure from being her master’s ultimate tool.’
Dr Roberts placed a stencil on India’s skin. It had been designed by Raniere based on his initials. The ordeal lasted 30 minutes and there was no anaesthetic.
Apart from recalling that she did not scream, she remembers little except for Mack’s continual mantra: ‘Feel the pain, feel the love.’
Catherine Oxenberg (pictured as Joan Collins’ daughter in Dynasty) learned from a Nxivm defector about her daughter’s horrifying existence in April 2017, but India refused to quit
Raniere ‘seemed pleased’ when he saw it and so was India, although it took months to heal.
In April 2017, Catherine Oxenberg learned from a Nxivm defector about her daughter’s horrifying existence, but India refused to quit. Others started leaving Nxivm in droves as they learned about DOS and the branding.
The defection of India’s three slaves at least spared her having to brand them as Mack had insisted. Raniere and Mack were arrested in 2018 and India finally came in from the cold.
Her co-operation with prosecutors helped ensure she wasn’t charged, too, as she could have been for assisting in recruiting DOS members and sharing the compromising information that they provided.
She takes issue with those who dismiss her and Raniere’s other disciples as terminally stupid and gullible.
These critics fail to understand what it’s like to be slowly worn down into submission, she says.
She would never, for instance, have agreed to be branded if asked at her first Nxivm seminar.
As for that brand, India has hidden it under a tattoo whose Italian inscription translates as ‘I am still learning’, which she thought was ‘appropriate’.
What a tragedy that this particular lesson had to be so painful.
Seduced: Inside The Nxivm Cult is on StarzPlay via Amazon Prime from Sunday.