Actress Sarah Edmonson has detailed her experience as part of NXIVM in a new memoir, Scarred, which opens with a description of her being branded with the initials of the sex slave cult’s leader, Keith Raniere. Women in the group, fronted as a personal development program with “executive success program” (ESP) seminars, were required to get branded to prove their devotion to Raniere, as well starved and forced into sexual acts with the leader. “I decided to start with the branding because I think that was the craziest thing that happened to me — lying naked on a table, having someone burn my flesh, Edmonson said in an interview with Refinery29. “The goal was to draw readers in right away, and I feel like if I started by explaining that I signed up for a few personal development seminars, it’s like, what’s the big deal?
“That’s really the nature of how cults get you — by starting slow, promising to help you realize your goals. If someone had said early on, “Hey, Sarah — can we brand you with our leader’s initials next to your crotch?,” I would have said, that’s f**king crazy.” Edmonson entered NXIVM in the early aughts, and soon became one of its slaves. During her decade in NXIVM, she became one of the cult’s top saleswomen and the head of its Vancouver, Canada chapter, recruiting more than 2000 members. She would hold down victims’ legs while they were branded like cattle. She writes in Scarred that the women were told they would be getting a tattoo the size of a dime.
Edmonson came forward with her story in October 2017, which eventually led to the arrest of Raniere and his right-hand woman, Smallville actress Allison Mack. Raniere was convicted in June 2019 on charges of forced labor and sex trafficking; he is due in court for sentencing on September 25, and could get 15 years to life in prison. Mack pleaded guilty to racketeering conspiracy and racketeering; she still faces charges of sex trafficking, identity fraud, and money laundering, and could get up to 20 years in prison. “It’s a mixed bag,” Edmonson said in interview when asked about how she feels looking at her branding scar today. “Sometimes it’s ‘f**k you, Keith,’ and other times it’s, ‘you messed with the wrong person.’ And other times it’s, ‘thank god this happened.’ Otherwise, I’d still be in ESP pushing that BS.”
“If this hadn’t happened to me, I would have been the first to say, ‘what an idiot. Why didn’t she just leave?'” The answer is that indoctrination is incredibly powerful,” she explained while discussing her master-slave relationship with senior NXIVM member Lauren Salzman. “If you look at the branding ritual as an example, they convince you that you are triumphing over your own weakness. One of the things that can be helpful in terms of an explanation is to look at the ways in which cults are similar to abusive relationships. Nobody seeks out an abusive partner, but so many people stay in these relationships longer than they should — they make excuses, they ignore red flags, and they allow themselves to be emotionally manipulated.”