It’s a story that has been widely reported on in the press, but after years of tabloids clambering for a word from survivor India Oxenberg about what she went through whilst a part of the NXIVM cult, she’s now speaking out in a documentary series alongside her mother, Catherine Oxenberg.
Coming to Starzplay on October 18th, 2020, Seduced: Inside the NXIVM Cult will give the deepest, most precise look into exactly what criminal activity convicted cult leader Keith Raniere and his group of lackeys indulged in, with first-person accounts from the Oxenbergs and other female survivors.
We got the opportunity to chat to both India and Catherine about the four-part series, as well as why this isn’t a period in their lives that will define them and, why they hope Raniere will serve life in prison.
After watching the first episode of Seduced, one of the things that really did stand out for me early on was that Catherine, you admitted that you felt quite guilty for the role you played in introducing India to NXIVM. Have you managed to reconcile that within yourself yet?
Catherine: Yes, I have. In fact, one of the first cult experts that I spoke with was Rick Allen Ross, and he said, ‘stop blaming yourself. These organisations, these cults, are well-oiled machines and India didn’t stand a chance. There was nothing that you did wrong. You went and you signed both of yourselves up for a personal improvement development group that looks legitimate, a lot of very credible people were involved; it was impossible for you to know that this was the end result, so give yourself a break.’
Then the way that I turned it around was that I fought tooth and nail to get her out and to try and dismantle the organisation and I think that, having that much agency in helping her definitely was my way of assuaging my guilt and feeling that I was doing the right thing, back then.
You were actually a part of NXIVM yourself for just under two years; what was the process of leaving like for yourself? Was it hard to get out?
Catherine: No, because there was a distinction. I took classes so I was technically a student and then what they did was, they really encouraged people to become coaches; it was no longer a tool, it was more like a lifestyle. That was never what I signed up for.
I did sporadic classes and the more I got involved in the classes, the more I was uncomfortable with the overall program and a lot of the things I started to see didn’t resonate with me, so I stopped taking classes.
I would say the cost for me was more of an estrangement with my daughter, because the more that she was drawn in, they would make me look bad because I was a ‘loser’ and I ‘wasn’t committed to the program’, so it made it harder for us to have a close relationship and spend time [together].
But beyond that it was easy to disengage; I just stopped taking classes.
India: It was always an ‘us against them’ type of setup anyways; just the nature of the organisation was like that.
So, if you were ‘inside’ or if you were a committed coach, you were considered superior in your elevated position, and that was the programming that they set and the messages they would give to all of the people that were coaches and, anyone who was outside of that was looking down upon, to the point where my own mother was considered an enemy.
Catherine: Which I didn’t know. I didn’t know that all of this heavy-handed alienation was going on, I just could feel her slipping away. Anyone who didn’t fully commit was seen as a dilettante.
India, I know you spent quite a few years within NXIVM, right up until the authorities caught up with all of the key players, so I think the most important question for you today is, how are you doing?
India: Much, much better now than before, if you can imagine. I actually have a great life now. I’m very lucky and grateful to have the support that I have from my family and the people closest to me.
My circle of friends is smaller and more selective, that’s for sure, but overall I’m really excited to promote this project and get this message out there.
You say in the first episode of the new series that you didn’t want to be saved despite your mother’s pleas; so what did you think of your mother at that time? I know you said that they casted her as an ‘enemy’…
India: This is my Mom. The woman that raised me. So, there was always a part of me that knew that, you can’t deny it, but I was being pressured and bombarded with all of these other thoughts from people who wanted to discredit my Mom.
They wanted me to think of her as the enemy; as someone who was trying to hurt me; as someone who didn’t understand or care for the same things that I cared for, and as an effect of that, I became more and more distant from my mother and retreated back into the people who were ultimately abusing and using me.
So that was really hard and really confusing for a long time - to reconcile with that after the fact. While I was in it I was just trying to get through the day.
What was the initial meeting like for you both after the arrests; so the first time you saw each other again?
India: We… we didn’t speak for nearly a year. So, by the time that we saw each other… there was a lot of emotion, a lot to unpack and, actually that very day that we met, we were having a meeting where we were supposed to have a mediation and introduce the topic of reconciliation and healing and we both really wanted that, but that day, all the other defendants that included Nancy Salzman, Clare Bronfman, Kathy Russell and Allison Mack were arrested while we were together.
It was just so surreal and so shocking; it was like a moment to escape maybe another future for myself and, I was just so happy to be with my Mom in that moment. I was like, ‘oh my God, what is happening?’
Catherine: I was so relieved she was in a hotel room with me and the mediator and not being dragged into court.
So now that those at the top are facing prosecution, do you feel that justice is being served? Is there more to be done?
India: We have some different opinions here, but we’re on the same team.
I do feel that justice is being served and, I have a lot of respect for this judge and I think he’s setting a tremendous precedent for how the law should be and that people, even if they weren’t directly affected by it, but maybe financially supported, should be held responsible and, I’m seeing that with the sentencing of Clare Bronfman.
I’m waiting for Keith [Raniere’s] sentencing at the end of the month and, my hope is that he will get life in prison, because I don’t think that he’s able to recover. I think if he was let out he would hurt other women…
India: …as he has done his whole life. So, I do feel like justice is being served and I think we’re going to make a lot of changes in this realm, particularly with coercion and high control groups.
We saw guilty pleas from the likes of Nancy [Salzman] and Allison [Mack]; do you think that is part of their rehabilitation or, do you think it’s more to do with personal preservation?
India: I wanna give them the benefit of the doubt and say that maybe they’ve seen the truth or ‘the light’ if you will. So, I would consider that the first step to recognising the truth, but you could speculate that it was for self-preservation. Who am I to say?
Catherine: It’s very hard to tell. You have Clare Bronfman writing a letter to the judge preceding her sentencing saying ‘I will not disavow Keith’; that is the effects of brainwashing and indoctrination, that she still will not disavow this man who is a convicted trafficker, sexual exploiter of children and a despicable human being, so that’s tragic.
Lauren Salzman [Nancy’s daughter] ended up being a star witness in the trial, so I would imagine that she’s really come to terms with it; she understands more deeply the cost to her life and the destruction that she’s participated in.
Nancy, you can kind of tell a little bit by… okay so they pled guilty but they’re not really cooperating witnesses. You can tell a little bit by the type of plea deals that they’ve made or not made.
India: [You can speculate by] how helpful or open they were.
I would say that these have been dangerous people, to say the least. Do you ever worry about potential ramifications for you both for speaking out, or do you now feel safe to speak your truth?
India: Mixed, honestly. I think the collateral still exists out there, somewhere. Myself and the other women don’t know where it is so, that’s a scary thought.
These people have shown a lot of vindictive behaviour and litigious aggression and, of course I feel afraid sometimes and think, ‘oh my gosh is my speaking out going to invite more enemies?’, but I got to the point where I felt I had to share and take back my story and life in my own hands and not be dictated by the media or anybody else but myself.
So that was a big decision for me but I think, the right decision.
Catherine: For me, I’ve been speaking out since July 2017 at great risk…
India: Before I chose to.
Catherine: …and spent many a sleepless night and was threatened on many, many levels and it is scary, but I had to do it. You do the right thing even if it’s frightening and even if there’s all sorts of dangerous consequences.
I still am afraid. Some of these people are very wealthy and they have used the law to destroy people.
India: There’s also still people who believe and trust in Keith and, for me that is also very scary, not that maybe they would come after me violently but, you never know what somebody’s mental state is, or how they might interpret me speaking out.
For me, my goal is to help and inform so that other women don’t fall into the same traps that I did and, that’s also huge motivation for me to speak.
If you just sit back and say nothing and watch as more and more of these groups unfold or take over people’s lives… I had my life hijacked and I don’t want that to happen to anybody else.
Moving forward, how do you ensure that this doesn’t define you both?
India: I consider more than just a headline. I’m a person and I have a life, and love, and family, and career aspirations, and my own personal interests and so, I won’t let something like that define me.
It’s a part of my life and history that I can’t erase, but I also know that I have a future.
Catherine: Well said.
There was a really striking scene right at the start of the series where you [India] were Googling headlines and that sort of thing… I do think it’s on us [the media] as well to make sure that this story gets out in the right way…
India: Thank you, I appreciate that so much, really.
I think it’s a lot of why people don’t speak out in general; because you get so typecast as ‘victim’, ‘cult girl’, ‘sex slave’ - those headlines are bad, there are worse like ‘murderer’ as I said in the documentary - but that’s hard, and it’s hard to come out of and sometimes, it can feel like it’s gonna swallow you whole and you’ll never get out. But the truth is the truth and I can’t really dispute or ignore that. I just have to share it.
To make sure that we get this right, when we type this up, how would you like to be described; a survivor?
India: I do feel like a survivor. I don’t walk around feeling like a victim. I consider myself a victim of Keith Raniere but not a victim of my life. I think I’ve gotten a little tougher so I can handle a lot more than I could before.
So yeah I feel like a survivor and also, I feel really reinvigorated by everything that I’ve learned and where I’ve gotten to with my own personal feeling, and I’d like to be there and more of an activist for other women.
Seduced: Inside the NXIVM Cult premieres Sunday, October 18th 2020, on Starzplay in the UK and STARZ in the US.