In the candlelit room, she and four other “slaves” were ordered to say: “Master, please brand me, it would be an honour.’’
Then, after being led to a massage table by her “master”, she was told to help restrain one of the other women who was then branded with a searing hot, laser-like device.
Sarah, 40, an actress recalls: “She was squealing like a pig, squealing like an animal being branded.”
She also endured the same torture and says: “It’s a searing, white pain. 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.
“It was like something out of a horror movie. We were shaking.”
Afterwards, amid the women’s agonisingly painful scars, the letters K and R could be seen — the initials of Keith Raniere, the charismatic leader of sex cult NXIVM.
He is now in jail in New York facing sex trafficking charges and accusations of abusing girls as young as 12. One of his followers, actress Allison Mack, was also arrested on Friday for acting as a key recruiter for the group, as well as a “slave” for Raniere, with whom she had a sexual relationship.
Raniere, 57, allegedly blackmailed women into becoming sex slaves and branded their skin with Mack’s initials as well as his own. Federal authorities said he had a “rotating group of 15 to 20 women with whom he maintains sexual relationships”.
Sarah left the cult two months after being branded in March last year. Her testimony — first revealed in the New York Times in October — led prosecutors to arrest Raniere on charges of blackmailing and brainwashing often rich and famous women into joining his alleged “sex cult”.
In the arrest documents Raniere is alleged to have insisted that the women attending one of his classes wore fake cow udders over their breasts while they were called “derogatory names”.
He is also accused of putting women in cages, starving them on diets of 500 calories a day — the recommended daily intake for women is 2,000 — and forcing one follower to run into a tree and drink from a puddle.
According to NXIVM’s former publicist Frank Parlato, as well as 35-year-old Mack — who played Chloe Sullivan in the Noughties TV series Smallville — the “cult” was also supported by fellow actress Nicki Clyne, who played Cally Tyrol in TV series Battlestar Galactica.
The NXIVM network appears to have enticed a string of rich and famous devotees, largely due to the charisma of New Yorker Raniere, who claims to have one of the world’s highest IQs and to hold three degrees.
On his website he says he could speak in full sentences when he was a year old and by 12 had mastered high school maths and taught himself to play “concert level” piano.
In 1998 he founded NXIVM — pronounced nexium — as a self-help organisation and set up its headquarters in Albany, New York.
He also grew his hair long and transformed himself into a New Age guru. Since then an estimated 16,000 people have enrolled in its courses, which it says are designed to bring about “greater self-fulfilment” by eliminating psychological and emotional barriers.
Most participants attended brief workshops such as the group’s “Executive Success Programs”. But others, including Mack, were drawn deeper into NXIVM, giving up careers and families to follow Raniere — known to them as “Vanguard”.
Followers say he is a warm, funny man who sleeps much of the day before playing volleyball and going on long walks with his women followers at night.
But the New York Times ran disturbing accounts from former followers. As well as the branding, they described how the group asked them to divulge compromising secrets before joining, prompting fears that they would be blackmailed.
Following the New York Times story Raniere fled to Mexico, where he was arrested last month after cops found him hiding in a luxury villa in Puerto Vallarta with several female members.
As well as being charged with sex trafficking he has also been accused of conspiracy to commit forced labour.
Since Mack’s arrest, another actress, Samia Shoaib, has revealed that she tried to lure her into the cult too. Samia, who was in the films Sixth Sense and Pi, met Mack at a 2013 audition and says she was immediately bombarded with friendship requests and to meet up.
She says Mack emailed her, saying: “Is there anything you have read that you can send to me? I would love to get into your brain a bit?!”
The pair met twice in the next month and the conversations quickly turned to a NXIVM-affiliated women’s group called JNess, which Mack encouraged Samia to join. But her descriptions of the group were always “very vague”, says Samia, 47.
She suspects Mack lost interest when she found out how old she was but one email Mack sent after their final dinner in 2013 sticks out to her: “Thank you for last night! I had a lovely time with you and (your friend). You are both delicious women.”
Now it seems Raniere faces an uncertain future — but despite the allegations swirling around him, his hold on some of his female followers appears to remain as strong as ever. A group of women chased cops after his arrest in Mexico
India Oxenberg, daughter of Dynasty actress Catherine Oxenberg, is one devotee who remains a member of NXIVM. Catherine, Amanda Carrington in the Eighties drama, attended a workshop with her daughter seven years ago and found it “weird and creepy”.
But India, now 26, signed up for more of the expensive classes and ended up draining her inheritance.
Catherine says that when she talked to a former NXIVM member, she became very concerned as India was not eating, her hair was falling out and she had not had a period in a year. But she refuses to leave.
Catherine, 56, says: “I’m helpless. I’ve lost my child and will do whatever I can to get her back.
“For months I have worked to expose Keith Raniere and NXIVM.
“I want my daughter to know I love her and I want her back in my life.”
BRANSON ISLE WILD PARTIES
Former NXIVM publicist Frank Parlato said: “I was told the reason they staged the seminars on Necker was they hoped to recruit Branson into the organisation.
“Branson would have been the biggest score they ever had – a billionaire businessman.”
Several group members, including co-founder Nancy Salzman, visited Necker for two seminars in 2007 and 2010. Keith Raniere did not attend either trip.
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