A mother’s fight to save her daughter

Disclaimer: This article is part of the Spectrum’s special addition on sexual assault awareness. As a result, this article covers content that may be triggering to some readers including sexual assault and consent. Please read at your own discretion. 

This is not a celebrity’s autobiography, but rather a true account of a mother who lost her daughter to a sex cult and sacrificed much to save her. Catherine Oxenberg is an established television actress who fought back when her daughter, India, was seduced into NXIVM. In 2017, India Oxenberg was visiting her on a five-day visit from New York when Oxenberg noticed India was unhealthy and had Keith Raniere’s initials branded in her pelvic region; something discovered while her daughter was examined by a doctor for not having had her period in over a year. 

Catherine Oxenberg made a fateful, heroic decision. “I was going to do whatever it took to save my daughter from this vicious cult… Not just for my daughter’s sake, but also for the countless other sons and daughters in this country who get lured into these exploitative, abusive traps every day.”

Oxenberg (right) fought against the NXIVM sex cult to save her daughter India (left).
Photo Courtesy | Patrick Ullmer

Raniere wasn’t just some creepy guy with long hair and a dreamlike influence, he was a devious manipulator. In “The Program” a book by Toni Natalie, Raniere’s former girlfriend (who he convinced into leaving her third husband for him), he managed to “cure” her nicotine addiction by pushing pressure points on her palm, sending her into a trance which she awoke from several hours later. Keith Raniere didn’t act alone and was aided by NXIVM president and co-founder Nancy Salzman, a dedicated disciple who treated Raniere like a god.

Raniere was credited for organizing the Executive Success Programs which Oxenberg and India attended five years prior to the branding discovery. However, Oxenberg noticed a silent rift driven between mother and daughter when India later came to visit on leave from the program. Oxenberg asked India if she was well and India replied, trying to hide her sorrow, “…I don’t want to show that I’m happy here because I’m afraid then that I’ll never leave.”

Oxenberg confronted Salzman about India’s behavior to which Salzman replied, “She’s just individualizing.” Oxenberg wasn’t fooled. “Instead of trying to find her individuality, India was in the process of losing it.” The cult had attempted to branch out globally. 

Though its strongholds failed in Europe, it gained traction in Mexico. Oxenberg attended a class and spoke up when she heard something she fundamentally disagreed with in a “class” teaching “at-cause” (blame-free) shame, which is not the same thing as remorse. “I don’t believe there’s such thing as healthy shame…” to which she was screamed at by the coach. “The coach’s name was Raton, which translates to English as a kind of rodent, appropriately enough. He was a total jerk.” 

It was the moment in which the coach taught that in rape, “we believe the victims are the abusers,” which made Oxenberg leave in disgust. Soon after, she discovered the branding upon India and effectively fought NXIVM, fruitlessly reaching out to the FBI. She successfully helped rescue several members by aiding the investigative journalism of Frank Parlato and through helping “cult-buster” Rick Alan Ross and his Cult Education Institute, which specializes in rescuing numerous trafficked women. 

They would rescue cult victims by helping them escape upon revealing their coerced servitude. “Every daughter we helped was like helping my own.” Oxenberg dug into Raniere’s past of “checkered” business projects, making most of its money from its participants and from filing lawsuits. “The deeper I dug, the sleazier it got.” 

She also discovered many of Raniere’s rape victims had vanished or killed themselves in places he had sent them to. Horrified at the news of India becoming an NXIVM recruiter, Oxenberg once considered chartering a plane to whisk away India and forcibly deprogram her but decided against it due to its illegality.

However, with Oxenberg’s help and that of many others speaking out, Raniere’s empire was destroyed less than a few years later and Raniere was captured hiding in a closet during a police raid on his villa in Mexico. He currently is serving a 120-year-sentence in prison. India was slowly and painfully rehabilitated. 

Though at the memoir’s publication, India was still breaking free of Raniere’s hold. In a recent interview video with People magazine, which can be found online, she seems to have been making a strong recovery, accepting the past and (at the time of video) was engaged with a caring fiancée. Catherine Oxenberg has finally succeeded in rescuing her daughter along with countless others.

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