Catherine Oxenberg's Daughter India Recalls Harrowing Moment She Was Branded in Nxivm Sex Cult

"There was no choice to say no," India Oxenberg recalls

People/October 13, 2020

By Liz McNeil

India Oxenberg remembers that harrowing night in January 2016. By then, she was deep in the throes of the Nxivm cult. She was instructed to remove her clothes. Along with several other women, she was told to walk into a room that had a table.

"I had two women holding my hands and my feet so I wouldn't convulse," India tells PEOPLE.

There, she was held down and branded with the initials of Keith Raniere, the leader of the now-notorious Nxivm, which New York prosecutors described as a "sex cult." "I remember the smell — of flesh," says India. "I remember crying but not with pain. There was no choice to say no."

It was all part of an initiation ceremony into Nxivm's secret master-slave sorority, known as DOS. She had been recruited to join the group by another Nxivm member, former Smallville actress Allison Mack, who would eventually become India's "master." India's harrowing ordeal is featured in this week's issue of PEOPLE, and is also featured on tonight's episode of PEOPLE (the TV Show!), airing at 7 p.m.

At the time, India and the other women were told the brand was a "symbol of the elements." By that point, after five years of indoctrination into Nxivm, which billed itself as a self-help organization, India had lost her ability to think independently. "The circumstances pushed us to our limits, to the point where you would think you were making the choice to get branded," she says.

Now 29, India is telling the harrowing story of life inside the cult in the upcoming STARZ four-part docuseries, Seduced: Inside the Nxivm Cult, which begins airing Oct 18 at 9 p.m.

For the first time, she shares the chilling details of how she was lured, brainwashed, blackmailed and initiated into DOS, where she was groomed to have sex with Raniere. "One of my first commands was to seduce Keith," she says. "I was told it was an assignment to make me feel less vulnerable."

After two years of intensive therapy and deprograming, she tells PEOPLE, "People ask how could this happen but it doesn't happen right away. It's a slow drip of indoctrination and grooming."

It was India's mom, Dynasty actress Catherine Oxenberg, who in 2017 went public with her fight to save her daughter. In interviews in the New York Times and PEOPLE, Catherine Oxenberg sounded the alarm about the con man and the cult.

"I was scared to death but it didn't matter if I was scared," says Catherine. "I knew what I was up against. I knew nobody had dared to do what I was doing because this cult had financially ruined them. I had to save my daughter."

India says, "I can't describe in words how grateful I am for that. Because the truth is, I didn't see a future for myself when I was there. I was really kind of committed to being there forever, indefinitely."

She adds: "I don't think anybody thinks that they could lose their life, but still be here. But the reality is that my life was hijacked by this group. And the fact that I get a second chance to actually just have my life and be like a normal 29-year-old — and not have everything be lost, and be one of these women that is going to spend the rest of their life either in jail or under house arrest, or with the mark of Keith Raniere — is remarkable to me that I get to have this. And that's because of what she did."

Mack 'had a lot of power and control over me'

Raniere and Mack were arrested in 2018, as part of a federal case against Raniere and other high ranking members of the group. Raniere, 60, was found guilty of sex trafficking, racketeering and possession of child pornography. He awaits sentencing, now scheduled for Oct 27, and could face life in prison.

Mack, 38, was arrested in 2018. In April 2019, she tearfully told the judge "I was lost," when she pleaded guilty to racketeering and racketeering conspiracy charges. She still awaits sentencing.

India, who once shared an apartment with Mack, says, "She had a lot of power and control over me and I was scared of her but she can't hurt me anymore. I think in a lot of ways she saw herself as a kind of Joan of Arc character, willing to fall on a sword for Keith."

Now that she's finally sharing her story, India says, "I would have been happy to not say anything, but I knew too much about what happened and I had a moral obligation to make sure it didn't happen to anyone else."

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