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Witness testifies in sex cult trial how she left after refusing to 'seduce' leader

In a courtroom drawing, defendant Keith Raniere (center),

In a courtroom drawing, defendant Keith Raniere (center), leader of the secretive group NXIVM, is seated between his attorneys Paul DerOhannesian (at left) and Marc Agnifilo during the first day of his sex trafficking trial on May 7, 2019. Credit: AP/Elizabeth Williams

Not every “slave” was willing to have sex with NXIVM savant Keith Raniere.

After a string of witnesses described being pressured into sexual encounters with the accused sex-trafficker, a California model testifying Tuesday in Brooklyn federal court told jurors she was a victim of childhood sex abuse by an uncle and wasn’t about to follow her so-called master’s order to “seduce” Raniere.

Instead, the woman – a 29-year-old allowed to testify under the pseudonym “Jay” -- said she began plotting to get out of NXIVM and its master-slave women’s group after actress Alison Mack, one of her masters, told her a forced encounter with the guru could help her deal with her past.

“I was horrified and enraged that she would want to re-traumatize me with someone I didn’t want to do something sexual with to heal my sexual trauma,” she said. “It was disgusting.”

Raniere, 58, established NXIVM in the Albany area in the 1990s as a self-help group. But prosecutors say it was a sex cult and he was a charlatan who used the group as a cover to control and exploit women, eventually establishing the secret master-slave sect, known as DOS or “The Vow,” to service him.

He is charged with racketeering, conspiracy, sex-trafficking and other crimes. Five leaders, including former “Smallville” actress Mack and Seagrams heiress Clare Bronfman, pleaded guilty.

“Jay,” like previous witnesses, said she was impressed by Raniere’s NXIVM courses, and open to the idea of a women-to-women mentoring group. Recruited by one of Mack’s “slaves,” India Oxenberg, actress Catherine Oxenberg’s daughter, she turned over a sex tape and other compromising material as “collateral” to secure a vow of secrecy

Although the group was structured to teach discipline, she said, some of the orders were “unusual.” She was frequently asked “how do you feel about Keith,” filled out a questionnaire about her sexuality, and ordered to dress up with makeup at NXIVM’s weekly volleyball games, which Raniere attended, she said.

“My understanding now is that I was being groomed to be part of his harem,” she testified.

When ordered to seduce Raniere, “Jay” said, she was told he liked to be “pursued.” She downloaded compromising collateral posted on other DOS members to give herself “leverage,” she said, and played for time and distance – going for a trip with her family, and leaving Albany to resettle in California.

After weeks of cat-and-mouse with Mack and Oxenberg in early 2017, “Jay” said, she broke with the group, and concluded that if her “collateral” was going to be released it was a price she’d have to pay. “I was ready to live with that,” she testified.

It never was. In mid-2017, as “Jay” broke her ties, NXIVM itself began to collapse amid revelations about the slave sect by dissident insiders and media reports. In fact, the defense argues, no one’s “collateral” was ever released. Raniere is accused of attempted sex-trafficking of “Jay.”

In other testimony Tuesday, a financial investigator said Bronfman had provided $14 million to a joint defense fund for Raniere and others, and that credit cards and bank accounts of his wealthy longtime companion, Pamela Cafritz, were used to pay $736,000 in expenses for 1-1/2 years after her death.

The trial, in its sixth week, resumes on Wednesday. Prosecutors have said they hope to rest their case by the end of this week.


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