NEW YORK: A former member of the cultlike Nxivm organization will resume testifying at founder Keith Raniere’s criminal trial on Wednesday, as prosecutors detail allegations that he recruited women as sex slaves under the guise of self-improvement.
The woman, a 32-year-old Briton who testified only using her first name, “Sylvie,” to protect her identity, described in U.S. District Court in Brooklyn on Tuesday how she was gradually drawn into Raniere’s orbit, only to eventually become a “slave” in a secret sex cult within Nxivm.
Prosecutors say Raniere forced numerous women to have sex with him – including a 15-year-old girl – and branded them with his initials.
Raniere has pleaded not guilty to charges of sex trafficking, pornography and other crimes. He faces life in prison if convicted.
His lawyer, Marc Agnifilo, argued in his opening statement on Tuesday that the women joined Nxivm knowing it would be demanding, and that Raniere never forced them to act against their will.
Nxivm, which started under another name in 1998 and is pronounced “Nexium,” was based in Albany, New York, and at one time operated numerous self-improvement centers across North and Central America.
Sylvie told jurors on Tuesday that she first enrolled in a Nxivm class in 2005, starting an on-and-off relationship with the group that intensified around 2012, when she decided to pursue elite running under Raniere’s instruction.
In 2015, she said, she married another Nxivm member, John, and the couple agreed to remain celibate for two years at Raniere’s direction.
Around the same time, a Nxivm member named Monica Duran offered her the chance to join a “master-slave program,” which would help her overcome her fears through submitting herself to Duran’s orders at all times.
Duran eventually told her to “seduce” Raniere, and she complied, starting with texts and then progressing to nude photographs.
The program was a secret sorority known as DOS, an acronym for a Latin phrase that roughly means “master of the obedient female companions,” according to prosecutors.
Slaves were assigned to masters, who in turn answered to Raniere, prosecutors said. Participants were forced to provide potential blackmail material, or “collateral,” such as explicit videos or damaging information.
Agnifilo told jurors the collateral was used to confirm the women’s commitment but was never intended to be released.
Raniere is standing trial alone after five co-defendants, including Bronfman and former “Smallville” star Allison Mack, pleaded guilty to related crimes.