Recognized for her role in the 1980’s television drama, Dynasty, actress Catherine Oxenberg has more recently been entangled in a real-life drama, waging war against a dangerous branding-sex cult that had ensnared her daughter, India.
In her book, Captive: A Mother's Crusade to Save Her Daughter from a Terrifying Cult (Gallery Books, out now), Oxenberg describes how her daughter became involved with Nxivm, originally believed to be a self-help organization that has recently been revealed as a cult in which female members were on near-starvation diets, branded with the cult’s symbol, and forced into sex. While the cult is being dismantled in real time, with its leader and members under arrest and due in court in October, Oxenberg says her daughter is now safe.
(This conversation has been edited for clarity and length.)
Why did you write this book?
The catalyst for writing the book was that I was in so much pain and my daughter, India was still in the organization. I was thinking to myself, what if this is the only platform that I’ll ever have to paint the picture of how indoctrination works and to show that she has been victimized by this group. At this point in the process no one had been arrested. [Cult leader Keith Raniere was arrested in March, followed by Smallville actress Allison Mack in April.] I didn’t even know if there was an active investigation going on. It was an act of desperation. But what it became, beyond a means to save India, was a roadmap for other families who are suffering in similar situations, who feel helpless to help their loved ones.
How did your experiences with Nxivm impact your spiritual life and the search for happiness?
I think that a big mistake that I have always made was to look for answers on the outside. This whole journey has catapulted me into the deepest connection with my own inner guidance. It deepens my own faith that nobody else has the answers for you and anyone who is offering you the answers to life’s problems in a quick-fix, cure-all fashion… run away! There are no quick-fixes. A lot of these kinds of self-help seminars are offering something quick and that is just not how it works. They are trying to sell you snake oil.
What do you think is the main appeal of cults like Nxivm?
Nobody signs up to join a cult. A lot of these cults have companies that are legitimate. They are offering legitimate tools that can benefit people. That’s what Nxivm’s Executive Success Program (ESP) was. It appealed to people who wanted to develop critical thinking skills, better communication, and boost entrepreneurial skills. That’s how it was touted. How you get from there and end up in a branded-sex cult is beyond me. It’s all about manipulation, deception, undue influence, and uninformed consent. That’s how these groups work. It’s a well-oiled machine and every step of the indoctrination process is calculated.
Where do things stand now; is India still captive?
No, she is free. I have a statement from her. She has given me permission to be her spokesperson, which is a huge step. She has given me a script and I am not allowed to deviate from that script. [If follows:] India is moving on with her life. It’s a complex situation and she understands her mom’s struggle as well as the people involved. She’s doing really well and I’m impressed at how well she is handling it all. Right now she would like privacy and she will share her side of the story in the near future.