Why was India Oxenberg afraid of NXIVM leader Allison Mack?
India Oxenberg is speaking out about the abuse she suffered at the hands of NXIVM. Part of NXIVM’s sex trafficking ring, DOS, Oxenberg was branded and kept under the watchful eye of her “master,” Smallville actress Allison Mack. Speaking exclusively to People Magazine, India & her mother, Catherine Oxenberg, talk about the abuse India suffered in NXIVM and how she escaped.
While in NXIVM, India Oxenberg feared punishment from Allison Mack for noncompliance. However, the fear of punishment wasn’t the only reason India Oxenberg stayed in NXIVM for so long. NXIVM groomed & coerced their victims into believing the abuse was for their betterment. Here’s how they lured, coerced, and exploited their victims, including India Oxenberg.
How India Oxenberg joined NXIVM
India Oxenberg comes from a prestigious family. She’s related to several members of European royalty, including the British Royal Family. Her mother, Catherine Oxenberg, starred in the 1980s hit series Dynasty. Coming from such a privileged background, India Oxenberg was motivated to do something good with her life.
When she started her business in 2011, her mother, Catherine Oxenberg, enrolled her in NXIVM courses, hoping to increase her daughter’s confidence. NXIVM billed itself as a self-help group and actively sought out members from high-profile industries. When India Oxenberg was recruited, NXIVM already brought in Allison Mack, Canadian actress Sarah Edmonson, and South African filmmaker Mark Vicente into the fold.
Catherine Oxenberg had no idea there was a darker side to NXIVM until 2017 when her daughter’s health began taking a turn for the worse.
In 2015, India Oxenberg was approached by Allison Mack about a special project she & NXIVM leader Keith Raniere were working on. That project was DOS, the sex-slave ring Raniere & Mack started that they were later arrested for. Mack only told Oxenberg DOS was a secret sisterhood within NXIVM.
The exclusive invitation made India Oxenberg feel honored. “Allison said she had a special program she thought could help me. I felt singled out. I felt special,” Oxenberg told People Magazine. After being asked to join, Oxenberg moved to Albany, where NXIVM’s headquarters were.
Once there, India Oxenberg’s life became more controlled. DOS leaders, called “masters” billed the sisterhood as a way to increase their inner discipline. In reality, this “high control group” dictated every moment of its members’ or “slaves’” lives. DOS dictated how many calories members could eat, how long they could sleep, and when they could shower.
In order to join DOS, NXIVM members would have to give their “masters” collateral. Initially, the collateral had to be an explicit photo or audio of “slaves” that masters could reveal if the “slave” disobeyed. When Allison Mack asked India Oxenberg to join, Mack asked for collateral to ensure DOS’s secrecy, “something to make sure I wouldn’t share what she was about to disclose,” Oxenberhg recalled to People.
“That’s how I ended up providing her with collateral. In reality, it was like I handed over the keys to lock myself in prison.” India Oxenberg revealed, elaborating that she shared “family secrets & nude photos” at first. Soon, Allison Mack had Oxenberg on a 500-Calorie per day diet and restricted the hours she could sleep. The lack of food and sleep wore on Oxenberg’s ability to “think critically and independently.”
Groomed for Keith Raniere
Later, India Oxenberg realized the calorie restriction & lack of sleep was part of a grooming process, so she’d be desirable for NXIVM leader Keith Raniere. “One of my first commands was to seduce Keith. Allison (Mack) said it was to make me feel less vulnerable. And I wanted to believe her,” Oxenberg recalled.
Billing itself as a “self-help group”, NXIVM framed the abuse in DOS as another way they “improved” its members. By the time India Oxenberg was in DOS, she’d been so conditioned to think NXIVM was helping her she didn’t know to say no. “You get so used to this environment of abuse that you believe you’re deserving of it, that it’s good for you,” Oxenberg recalled.
If she failed her tasks, Allison Mack, her “master”, would punish her. While the details of India Oxenberg’s punishments aren’t talked about, other DOS members suffered horribly. One member was locked in a room for months, then dumped in Mexico without her paperwork for failing to please Keith Raniere.
Extracting India Oxenberg
Catherine Oxenberg, India’s mother, became increasingly distressed at her daughter’s distance and weight loss. Unfortunately, India Oxenberg distanced herself more as her mother pleaded for her to leave. “You get so used to this environment of abuse that you believe you’re deserving of it, that it’s good for you,” India reflected.
With the help of former members Sarah Edmonson, Bonnie Piesse, and Mark Vicente, Catherine Oxenberg took the case against NXIVM to the FBI. HBO’s The Vow documents Catherine’s struggle to rescue India Oxenberg from NXIVM, even revealing that Catherine went to the FBI with information on India to try and get her out.
Happily, India Oxenberg left NXIVM, but it took the arrest of Keith Raniere and Allison Mack to extract her. Catherine Oxenberg also made sure no cameras were around when India decided to come back so her daughter would feel safe to come home.
Long road to recovery
India Oxenberg stayed out of the spotlight following her escape from NXIVM. She focused on her recovery, seeing therapist Rachel Bernstein, a licensed counselor who specializes in deprogramming cult victims. Bernstein has a podcast called Indoctrination where she delves into cults and how they groom their victims for abuse and explains how they ensnare their victims.
“When people are groomed, they feel they have been specially chosen. What you don’t realize is the true intention of the grooming. It seems like you’ve been chosen for something special and the whole point is for you to lower your defenses, and when you lower your defenses, you lower your boundaries and they can much more easily manipulate you and abuse and exploit you.”