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A High-Ranking Member Of The Alleged Sex Cult NXIVM Said Women Were Whipped And "Pilled" Into Submission

"These things started to become scary to me," Lauren Salzman testified.

Posted on May 20, 2019, at 5:30 p.m. ET

Lauren Salzman leaves Brooklyn federal court in New York on Jan. 28.
Seth Wenig / AP

Lauren Salzman leaves Brooklyn federal court in New York on Jan. 28.

A high-ranking member of the secretive cult NXIVM described how members were paddled, whipped, and forced into a brutal drills, including being locked in a cage, as they were trained to become "sex slaves" to their master, Keith Raniere.

Lauren Salzman detailed the alleged abuse Monday while testifying in the trial of Raniere, the club's charismatic leader with a nationwide network of students who often paid thousands of dollars to learn his self-help curriculum. He now faces sex trafficking, racketeering, and conspiracy to commit forced labor charges.

In this April 13, 2018, courtroom sketch, Keith Raniere, center, attends a hearing.
Elizabeth Williams / AP

In this April 13, 2018, courtroom sketch, Keith Raniere, center, attends a hearing.

Salzman, who pleaded guilty to conspiracy charges in March, testified about how the women who were targeted to serve as "slaves" were often subjected to a barrage of sadistic treatment, including being paddled and whipped with a leather strap. One woman was kept in a room for two years under the threat that she be sent back to Mexico if she didn’t comply with the group’s demands, Salzman testified.

She also recalled how another woman in 2002 associated with NXIVM had a “psychotic break.”

The woman became violent and was “pilled,” which meant someone forced a Valium down her throat, Salzman said. A second Valium was allegedly given to the woman in scrambled eggs.

Salzman said she wanted to use the pilling admission as part of her "collateral" — compromising information about members that was allegedly kept as a form of control — for joining the sex cult within NXIVM, called DOS, but it was rejected and she was asked to submit nude photos of herself instead.

She said she had “mixed feelings” about the photographs and justified making good on the request by telling herself it was “just about vulnerability.”

Then, in January 2017, Salzman recalled being approached by Raniere, who told her “he wanted to make our relationship closer.”

Salzman said she responded by saying she’d do anything to make that happen and that she was “fully committed to my growth and fully committed to you."

Salzman said she recruited six women, whom she called her “slaves,” and detailed the steps in which someone was inducted into the secret “sorority,” or DOS.

Recruits went through various stages of initiation, starting as “prospects.” The next was “first collateral,” a term used to describe something damaging the individual would need to give up to show their devotion to the cause. The third step was “pitching,” where they were told about the master–“slave” union, which usually led to step four, being fully committed to the cause. Salzman said step five included a person being “fully collateralized” in all areas of their lives.

Previous testimony revealed how members were branded on their skin.

Salzman also recalled “readiness drills” the women in DOS had to complete on short notice. For example, she said, Raniere would send a text with a question mark to a group chat that included her and other high-ranking DOS members. They would then have 60 seconds to notify their “slaves” and get the communication back to Raniere that the test had been completed.

She said this was often difficult to do because Raniere would run drills with the Society of Protectors, a men’s organization within NXIVM and DOS, creating chaos because so many at a single time were running drills, which were meant to “help us build discipline and be responsive."

“It started to be hard to keep it secret,” she said.

The drills for DOS members were "a lot more aggressive," as were the punishments, Salzman testified. Sometimes women were paddled, and one woman told her Raniere kicked her as a means of helping her through a “prideful state," Salzman added.

“These things started to become scary to me," she said.

Salzman noted how the idea of a dungeon was conceived under the guise of being an opportunity for growth for the most committed members of DOS. She believed vulnerability was the point of a member being locked in a cage, which could have gone on for days at a time, forcing the "slave" to completely surrender.

“I didn’t believe you couldn’t be most committed to growth unless you did BDSM things,” she said.

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