22:12 GMT26 January 2021
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    In 2017 NXIVM, a cult which that sought to disguise itself as a psychological self-help group, was exposed by the media in the US. Prosecutors say it was a financial pyramid, which forced vulnerable members to pay thousands of dollars for "development courses" and recruited women into an inner group called DOS.

    The leader of NXIVM, Keith Raniere, has finally gone on trial in New York, accused of sex trafficking, child pornography and a string of racketeering charges.

    Ranieri, 58, was the charismatic leader of the group, known as Vanguard, and prosecutors say he tricked several women into joining a master/slave group called DOS and branding his initials into their groin area.

    Raniere is going on trial alone as four other NXIVM leaders, Nancy Salzman and her daughter Lauren, actress Allison Mack — star of US TV show Smallville and Clare Bronfman, daughter of billionaire philanthropist and former chair of Seagram, the Quebec-based liquor giant, have all pleaded guilty to racketeering charges.

    ​Dozens of former NXIVM members are expected to testify against Raniere at a federal courthouse in Manhattan.

    Keith Raniere (centre) in a courtroom artist's sketch of the courtroom on 7 May 2019. Raniere is flanked by his attorneys Paul DerOhannesian and Marc Agnifilo
    © AP Photo
    Keith Raniere (centre) in a courtroom artist's sketch of the courtroom on 7 May 2019. Raniere is flanked by his attorneys Paul DerOhannesian and Marc Agnifilo

    On Tuesday, 7 May, an English woman known only as Sylvie gave evidence about being recruited into DOS.

    She said she was told it was her turn to "seduce" Raniere.

    "Oh God. This is not what I want to do. What does this even mean?" the 32-year-old said.

    Raniere has denied all the charges and insists his encounters with the alleged victims were consensual.

    ​Last year Raniere's defence attorney, Marc Agnifilo, told the Uncover podcast nobody was manipulated and NXIVM was not a "criminal enterprise".

    "The government's position is tricky…these are not poor, put-upon people. They are actresses and business people. They're for the most part, well educated, they're smart, and for the government to say they're brainwashed. They're saying all of these successful, people were essentially brainwashed and they're not working in their own true self interests. I don't think there's such a thing as brainwashing," Mr Agnifilo told the podcast.

    ​But in her opening statement Assistant US Attorney Tanya Hajjar described Raniere as a master manipulator who used "shame and humiliation" to force women to have sex with him.

    Raniere portrayed himself as a self-help guru but was actually a "con man" and "predator" who had sex with a 15-year-old girl when he was 45 and recruited his own personal harem.

    "The defendant pretended to be a guru but he was a criminal," Hajjar told the jury.

    Agnifilo said Raniere was teaching his devotees lessons about how to achieve inner strength and he taught people there was no such thing as luck or victimhood and everything that happened to them happened to them for a reason.

    "This is something these people signed up for. They were there to make their lives better," Agnifilo said.

    ​Sylvie said she was told to "seduce"Raniere in 2015 and said she felt she could not refuse because her female "master" in the DOS group had collected embarrassing material from her, including a fake letter to her parents where she falsely claimed she was a prostitute.

    "I had to do what my master said to do or my collateral would be released," Sylvie told the court.

    Sylvie wept on the stand as she described how her "master" scolded her and told her she would have to have sex with Raniere.


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    sex cult, Sex Trafficking, racketeering, trial, NXIVM, New York, US
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