BROOKLYN, N.Y. (CN) – A 31-year-old actress testified Friday that the former leader of purported self-help group NXIVM tied her blindfolded to a table and had another woman perform oral sex on her while he watched, walked around the room and asked her questions about her sexual history.
On her second day of testimony in Keith Raniere’s Brooklyn trial, a woman identified only as Nicole said she had been a “slave” of former “Smallville” actress Allison Mack in a secretive sex cult within NXIVM called DOS or “The Vow,” which was led by Raniere. One of her early assignments from her “master,” Mack, was to tell Raniere she would do whatever he asked.
It took a terrified Nicole two tries to tell Raniere this in a way he accepted, she told his jury.
“He asked me to trust him no matter what was about to happen, and I said yes,” Nicole said.
She testified that Raniere, sitting while she stood before him, asked her to take off her clothes and commented on her body, including her pubic hair. Eventually he told her to dress and put on two blindfolds, then they rode in a car to another location, she said.
“He told me to get on the table, and then he tied my wrists and my feet to different sides,” she said. She felt “cold” and “super vulnerable and exposed, and I was hoping maybe that was it, that maybe that was the whole thing…Then somebody started going down on me.”
Nicole described terror and confusion when Raniere started talking because it meant there was a third person in the room. Then she felt hair, she said.
“I felt a tiny bit safer that it was a woman and not another man in the room,” she said.
Jurors heard in opening arguments that third person was Camila, an alleged child pornography victim of Raniere and a “first-line master” in DOS alongside Mack, her co-defendant Lauren Salzman, and five other women.
As Camila performed oral sex, Raniere asked Nicole if she’d ever been in a threesome and how many people she’d been sexually active with, Nicole testified.
Afterward, Nicole was “completely in shock,” she testified, periodically breaking down in tears on the stand.
She told the jury that Raniere “said he wanted me to know that nothing bad had just happened, I was a young woman and allowed to be sexual.”
Nicole and Raniere continued to have a sexual relationship, she said, though she repeatedly insisted her time in DOS was not consensual: DOS slaves had to turn over collateral to join the group, and Nicole had provided false, damaging information about her family. She expressed incredulity on the stand at what she said was the lack of logic in DOS and NXIVM operations.
Nicole this week proved bubbly, funny and personable on the stand, seemingly endearing her to the jury, whom she moved to laughter on multiple occasions. But she also appears deeply impacted by her time in DOS, periodically speaking through tears or breaking down in sobs.
Mack’s slaves were allegedly told they would get branded on their bikini lines with an image of the four elements — air, mountains and water, sealed by fire. When Nicole’s turn came at the branding ceremony, she said she thought of her family to get her through the pain.
Two people who appeared to be Nicole’s parents sat in the second row of the gallery. Both cried as she told the story of the branding, the woman shaking with sobs. The woman was eventually escorted out by a U.S. Marshal and did not return for the remainder of the afternoon.
Another of Mack’s slaves and one of Nicole’s confidantes in the group was India Oxenberg, daughter of “Dynasty” actress Catherine Oxenberg, who has been outspoken about her struggle to remove her daughter from the cult’s clutches.
One crucial part of DOS was restricted diets, “presented as a discipline exercise,” and India Oxenberg was eating just 500 calories a day, Nicole testified.
Nicole also testified that Mack and her four slaves would take what Mack called “family photos,” where Mack commanded them to strip naked and smile for a picture. Mack would then discreetly send the photos to Raniere, Nicole soon realized.
“I absolutely hated it,” she testified. “It made you feel really unsafe…You have no control over when you’re just told that you have to take off your clothes.”
By this point she was sobbing on the stand.
“This was supposed to be a women’s empowerment organization,” Nicole continued. “How is it empowering to make us take off our clothes and send photos to a man?”
She also performed hours of unpaid labor for the group from her Brooklyn apartment, she testified, reviewing essays written by Raniere and transcribing tapes for a memorial service.
Nicole left DOS as the group started to implode, after another slave, Sarah Edmondson, went public with her story to The New York Times. But the scars remain.
She drew herself up, almost angrily, in her chair Friday as she explained to jurors she had later learned she actually had Raniere’s initials branded on her body.
“And do you still have that brand on you right now?” asked Assistant U.S. Attorney Moira Penza.
Immediately Nicole crumpled, dropped her face into her hands, and sobbed.
“Yes, I do,” she said.