You may have read about the Nxivm (pronounced ‘Nexium’) cult scandal in the headlines, but the actress’ bestselling new book, Captive, tells a shocking and personal new side of the tale. Tragically, it was Oxenberg who introduced her daughter India, now 27-years-old, to the cult back in 2011, thinking it was a self-help course. At the time, India dreamt of opening her own bakery in her Los Angeles neighbourhood, and Nxivm promised to offer its attendees life-changing business and personal development seminars. Oxenberg paid thousands of dollars to sign up both her and India, along with and her now ex-husband, actor Casper Van Dien, with whom she has two younger daughters.
India quickly became gripped on the programme’s teachings, and within a year she had become an official Nxivm ‘coach’. By 21, when she came into an inheritance, she had started giving her own money to the group. At first Oxenberg stood back: “I wanted to be respectful of her choices,” she said in an interview with the Times.
But as the months went on, India became more and more distant. “I thought I’d lost her,” she continued, openly crying to the interviewer. “It’s such a relief to have her home."
In April last year, Oxenberg received a phone call from a former Nxivm member. “You have to save India,” the woman told her, revealing she'd become part of the cult’s secret slave-master inner group. To join, women signed vows of obedience and gave damaging material about themselves that could be used to keep them silent. They were put on starvation diets and, blindfolded and naked, were branded with the initials of NXIVM's leader Keith Raniere. “He’s having sex with at least 20 of them,” Oxenberg was told.
Hearing that her daughter was dangerously thin, her hair was falling out in clumps and that she had also been permanently marked in an act of torture; held down and branded on her pubic region with a white-hot cauterizing pen with the initials of Raniere and former Smallville actress Allison Mack – Oxenberg says she had no choice as a mother but to try and save her.
In her book, Oxenberg details how she came to newspaper owner Frank Parlato – who was then the only voice speaking out against the cult – and told him about her daughter being branded. Parlato broke the news of the branding and blackmailing of women in the Niagara Reporter, Artvoice and on his blog, the Frank Report.
This created the catalyst for Nxivm to fall apart, as Parlato wrote and published more than 1,000 stories for the three publications, prompting its followers to leave in droves and mainstream media to take note of the vicious cult for the first time.
Thanks to Parlato and Oxenberg’s tireless efforts, the cult’s leader, Keith Raniere, is now behind bars, awaiting trial on charges including sex trafficking. His trial is scheduled for January next year and, if found guilty, he faces life in jail.
Considering her larger-than-life family history (filled with royalty, arguments and champagne glass-smashing episodes) and starring role on the famously dramatic soap opera Dynasty, it’s hard to believe such an ordeal could happen to Oxenberg – something the actress herself acknowledges: “This was no Hollywood movie. Keith was a real-life Dr Evil.”
India is now happy and healthy, living back home in LA, and Oxenberg says she’s so grateful to be spending time with her once again, even doing the simplest things like going grocery shopping. “We always assume there’s this indelible bond. But in a nanosecond my daughter was gone,” she said. “I’m treasuring every shared experience – nothing is too mundane.”
Captive by Catherine Oxenberg is out now
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