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Sex slaves, brandings, blackmail: Inside the disturbing cult disguised as a "self help group".

On the outside, NXIVM looked like any other self-help group.

Pronounced “nexium”, the group, which marketed itself as “a new ethical understanding that allows us to build an internal civilisation and have it manifest in the external world,” often enticed the wealthy, famous and elite of New York City.

Led by charismatic self-help guru Keith Raniere, the multi-level marketing company, which was founded in 1998, promised to empower women in their 30s and 40s.

But on the inside, the reality was much different.

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Although NXIVM was widely described as a “pyramid scheme” and “expensive brainwashing” over the years, it wasn’t until 2017 that the group’s true sinister side was exposed.

While most participants just attended brief workshops, others were drawn deeper into the company as they left their families and lives to follow Raniere, who they were told to call “Vanguard”.

Canadian actress Sarah Edmondson was one of the thousands of women who eagerly agreed to join NXIVM.

She was also one of the many women who was exposed to the DOS, a “secret sisterhood” within NXIVM.

Lauren Salzman, who was described as a “rock star within the company”, had asked Edmondson to join the secret faction of NXIVM – and she eagerly agreed.

But just months later, Edmondson found herself sitting in a room with four other women, handing over “naked photographs or other compromising material” to be used as collateral if anyone exposed private information about the group.

Smallville actress Allison Mack was reportedly second-in-charge within the DOS.

nxivm sex cult
Smallville actress Allison Mack. Image: Getty.
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In fact, it was Mack who apparently came up with the idea to given the women within the faction a "small tattoo" as part of the initiation process.

According to The New York Times, Edmondson and four other "slaves", were instructed to undress and lie on a massage table where they were physically restrained.

After saying: "Master, please brand me, it would be an honour," a doctor would use a cauterising device to sear a square symbol on each of the women's hips.

The painful procedure took between 20 to 30 minutes to complete.

"For hours, muffled screams and the smell of burning tissue filled the room," wrote The New York Times.

"It's a searing, white pain," Edmondson said. "It's being burned. I was being wounded and humiliated, and I was being filmed."

"We had surgical masks on because the smell of burnt flesh was so strong. We were in shock. I wept the whole time," she continued.

Sarah Edmondson. Image via Facebook.

"It was like something out of a horror movie. We were shaking."

As the branding healed, it became clear that the initials KR could be seen – the initials of Keith Raniere.

Two months after being branded, Edmondson left the group.

Within the group, the women in the DOS were allegedly blackmailed by Raniere into becoming sex slaves.

It's believed Raniere had sexual relationships with up to 20 women within the company.

Over the past two decades, Raniere has been referred to as "dangerous", and one report said that Raniere manipulates women into having sex with him by billing it as a "spiritual experience, a transfer of his godlike energy."

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He has been accused of engaging in sexual relationships with at least two minors, one of whom has since died by suicide, and exploiting his status to have sex with students of NXIVM.

nxivm sex cult
NXIVM founder Keith Raniere. Image: YouTube.

Former members of the group also claim that Raniere forced women to follow "near-starvation diets" of just 500 calories a day "to achieve the type of physique he found appealing."

It's believed that failure to adequately fast, or abide by the groups rules, resulted in "physical punishment".

In March 2018, Raniere was arrested after fleeing to Mexico with a number of his female followers. He was indicted on a variety of charges relating to DOS, including conspiracy to commit force labour and sex trafficking. He was also handed an additional charge of child pornography amid claims he filmed himself engaging in a sexual relationship with a 15-year-old girl and possessing child pornography.

He is due to face federal court on May 7, 2019.

In April 2018, Allison Mack was arrested and handed similar charges to Raniere. Earlier this month, she pleaded guilty to one count of racketeering conspiracy and one count of racketeering and admitted to coercing and blackmailing women within the DOS.

"I’m very sorry for the victims of this case," she said in court. "I’m very sorry for who I’ve hurt through my misguided adherence to Keith Raniere’s teachings."

Last week, Seagram heiress Clare Bronfram plead guilty after admitting to helping Raniere use a deceased woman's credit card.

It's believed HBO are currently working on a documentary series exploring the NXIVM sex cult case.

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