US actress charged over role in master-slave sex cult

The Straits Times, Singapore/April 22, 2018

Washington -- Actress Allison Mack, best known for her decade on TV show Smallville, and Keith Raniere, the leader of what the authorities allege is a sex cult, have been indicted on federal charges of sex trafficking and conspiracy to commit forced labour.

Raniere and Mack were each charged on Friday with multiple counts, and could face a minimum of 15 years' jail if convicted. Mack was arrested in New York City on Friday and will be held pending a bail hearing tomorrow. Raniere has been in custody since he was arrested in Mexico in March.

Raniere is the founder of NXIVM, which bills itself as a self-help and empowerment organisation, but is described by the authorities as a cult-like group whose members recruited women to be sex slaves.

The group has denied it was a cult, but former members have said Raniere demanded obedience from his followers, who referred to him as "Vanguard".

Raniere created a secret society within NXIVM called DOS, derived from a Latin phrase that loosely translated to "Lord/Master of the Obedient Female Companions", or "The Vow", officials said in the statement.

"DOS operated with levels of women 'slaves' headed by 'masters'," the statement said. "Slaves were expected to recruit slaves of their own (thus becoming masters themselves), who in turn owed service not only to their own masters, but also to masters above them in the DOS pyramid."

Mack, 35, was one of the women on the level of the pyramid immediately below Raniere, officials said.

The slaves were often required to perform "acts of care" and pay "tribute" to their masters, including doing work and other tasks for which they were not compensated, according to a document that federal prosecutors filed with the court.

They also had to participate in "readiness drills, which required them to respond to their masters any time of day or night, causing DOS slaves to be seriously sleep-deprived", the document said.

The women, it added, were also branded in their pelvic regions using a cauterising pen "with a symbol that, unbeknown to them, incorporated Raniere's initials".

"Mack and other masters recruited... slaves by telling them that they were joining a women-only organisation that would empower them and eradicate purported weaknesses the NXIVM curriculum taught were common in women," prosecutors said. But "the victims were then exploited, both sexually and for their labour, to the defendants' benefit," said US Attorney Richard Donoghue.

Assistant US Attorney Moira Kim Penza said in court in New York that "under the guise of female empowerment", Mack "starved women until they fit her co-defendant's sexual ideal", AP wrote.

Mack starred in the Smallville series as Chloe Sullivan from 2001 to 2011, and has been in a handful of television roles since, according to her IMDB page.

According to CBS News: "Former NXIVM publicist Frank Parlato told Inside Edition that Mack is 'completely enamoured with Raniere and completely under his thrall'."

He also said Mack and her Smallville co-star, Kristin Kreuk, were used as "poster girls for normalising the group".

Raniere, 57, was living in a villa in Puerto Vallarta with several women, according to federal prosecutors, before he was apprehended in March. The Mexican authorities took him into custody and delivered him to Texas; he is now in federal custody in Brooklyn.

As Raniere was taken from the villa, prosecutors said the women chased after the authorities in their own car at high speed.

"In my opinion, NXIVM is one of the most extreme groups I have ever dealt with, in the sense of how tightly wound it is around the leader," cult expert Rick Ross told the Albany Times-Union in 2012.

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