As we analyze the appropriateness of the 120 year sentence of Keith Alan Raniere, we might as well begin with the first victim to speak at his sentencing hearing: Camila.
Her victim statement was the first time Camila, age 30, made her voice heard. She was, however, a central part of the case. It was the discovery of nude photos of her, purportedly taken in 2005, when she was 15, and revealed shortly before the trial, that is believed to have prompted the other Nxivm defendants to take plea deals, leaving Raniere to stand trial alone.
Branding was bad enough, but not illegal in and of itself – and some of the other crimes like forced labor – because someone did some work on a memorial or got someone coffee – all because of collateral – were nebulous; some of the racketeering acts were old and comparatively inconsequential.
But child porn and sexual exploitation of a minor – a 15-year-old girl – no matter when it happened – has a stench to it that no one wants to stand nearby. Nancy Salzman was first to take a plea deal, followed by her daughter, Lauren, then Allison Mack, Clare Bronfman, and, finally, Kathy Russell.
During the trial – the photos of Cami loomed large. In addition, the prosecution got hold of thousands of texts between Raniere and her. They spent a day reading them in court with a prosecutor reading Raniere’s texts and an FBI witness reading Cami’s texts [or vice versa].
Some of the texts made Raniere look cruel as he berated the lonely, sometimes suicidal Camila for having an affair with the son of a Nxivm leader, a man about her own age [Raniere was 30 years older than Cami]. He asked her probing and relentless questions about her affair, revealing an apparently insecure and jealous man, focusing on Cami’s perception of such things as whose semen tasted better – his or the young man she had slept with – and whose penis was larger when fully erect. When Cami’s reply was read at trial, it caused mirth in the courtroom, as Cami texted Raniere that he had not been fully erect in a long time.
As much as anyone, Cami helped convict Raniere, though she was not at the trial.
Now, at his sentencing hearing, she made her first appearance. And finally gave her statement. There was a great deal of poetry in this. That his young victim comes on stage at his last court appearance – his sentencing – and speaks first among the victims – escorted in and out of the courtroom – the only speaker to be so treated – and makes the final pronouncement on Keith Raniere.
Shakespeare himself could not have arranged a more dramatic scene. All this time, over all these years, with her being a central, but absent figure in the fall of Keith Raniere, and then, at the last moment, just before the gavel drops and he is sentenced to an eternity in prison, she makes her appearance.
Raniere’s attorney, Marc Agnifilo, predicted that “Cami will bring the house dow”.
He wasn’t wrong…
THE COURT: We have 15 victim statements that will be made either in person or by video or audio. And we’ll begin with the victim statement by Camila. Okay. Is Camila in the room or do we have to escort her?
AUSA TANYA HAJJAR: She’s being escorted in, Your Honor.
THE COURT: Thank you.
There was a pause in the proceedings, as everyone waited for Camila to arrive. She came out of a door behind the judge and went to the podium where she could face the judge and Raniere. It was observed that the only time Keith moved involuntarily during the entire sentencing proceedings was when Camila came into the courtroom.
THE COURT: Okay. Good morning, ma’am. Are you Camila?
CAMILA: I am.
THE COURT: All right. Please leave your mask on, you will be heard. Thank you very much. You may proceed when you are ready.
CAMILA: Good morning, Your Honor. I’ll start by introducing myself. My name is Camila, but most people call me Cami. I understand that the case that concerns me and my name has been mentioned repeatedly throughout the trial, but I was not here and I was not heard.
THE COURT: Could you lower the microphone a little and speak slowly and take all the time you need, please.
CAMILA: Thank you.
THE COURT: Thank you.
CAMILA: During this trial I was advised by my lawyer not to speak with the Government and to stay invisible. But I have recognized the power I hold and I am ready to retain my voice and stand up for myself. As for the individuals that I am here to speak about, it is difficult for me to utter his name. I will only refer to him as “Keith.”
I am rebuilding my life and I will not bring him forward into my future. This man that you are about to sentence had a deep invest in my life that I am not sure I can fully quantify or qualify. It has taken me a long time to begin to process the trauma he caused by his attempts to control my mind and my world.
He tried to replace my voice with his own, my thoughts with his self-serving ideas. He twisted my mind for so long that finding the strength and clarity to tell my story has been a slow and painful journey. And even now I realize that I still have a long road ahead of me.
I am here because I am someone’s daughter, sister, and friend, and I know that if it was my own daughter, sister, or friend it would be completely unacceptable for her to have been inducted into that situation; therefore, I am standing up for that girl that was someone’s daughter and I am saying it is unacceptable that she was in this situation. It is wrong that she had to live through everything she did, and it is unforgivable that it lasted 12 years.
You want me to believe that my only value came from having self-doubt. I now realize I am stronger than he ever allowed me to know I was. He tried to control me because he knew that the knowledge I had about him and his actions toward me made him vulnerable.
I met him when I was just 13, and from the start, I did not feel comfortable around him. I would even try to avoid being in the same room as him, but the adults around me would get mad at me for being rude and push me back towards him. This felt like a violation and a betrayal from the very people that were supposed to protect me.
The very first time I was left to have a conversation alone with him, we talked about how I placed second on my eighth-grade spelling bee contest. I continued to avoid him after that for some time, but years later, he told me how he knew I was special from the moment we met at 13.
He first had sex with me on September 18, 2005. He would expect me to celebrate September 18th as our anniversary together every year. That first time, which was my first time, I was 15. He was 45.
This was after a few months of him asking me to go on walks in the middle of the night, which he would bring up topics of a sexual nature escalating in detail over time and asking me flippant questions about my sexual history, of which I had none.
He told me keep it all a secret, immediately severing me from my family and friends and effectively making himself my only resource. Beginning at that time, he would ask me to sneak — sneak out of the house that I was living in to meet him at places where we were isolated as well as from everyone else so that he could have sex with me.
He would often take me to his executive library where he would ask me to take my clothes off before coming up the stairs to the loft as he watched. During these secret meetings when I was still 15, he took naked pictures — naked pictures of me.
The experience of being photographed is seared into my memory. As a 15-year-old that is not something you easily forget. He would have with me some type of sexual contact during every meeting. He wanted to take a picture with no exception.
While he hid our sexual relationship from others, he explained it to me by telling me I was very mature for my age, and the flattering and the romance of hearing that when you’re a teenager; I know now that it was false. I was a child. I also know that it was no excuse to rob me of my youth or to interrupt my life the way he did. He used my innocence as — my innocence to do whatever he wanted with me, not just sexually but also psychologically.
He manipulated me into what he wanted for his own reasons, for his own pleasure. He was calculated and methodical in the way he tricked me into a relationship and the way he manipulated me for every second of my life. He groomed me in his eyes. He shaped my being to his liking, or mine, he said.
Today I still have trouble identifying the lines between a normal relationship and an abusive one. Even the times with him that could have been perceived as smooth and conflict-free, I now realize were the other side of the abuse. I had to become good at figuring out how to stay in his good graces by pleasing him and doing exactly what he wanted me to do, and I did.
I became the best. He had made himself my only lifeline and I was not going to mess with that. I learned that survival is instinctive, even in the most twisted circumstances.
He was involved in and controlled every aspect of my life. When I was 17, he directed that I overstay my visa. At the time I was too young to understand why he wanted this to happen, but I now realize why. I realize that he was using my status on his lap to strip me of all options and in doing so, deprive me of my freedoms. I was not old enough to consciously consent or understand how he was taking away my rights. I regret listening to him and trusting him.
In 2011 he put me up in an apartment in the neighborhood. It was clear that just like our relationship, no one could know about it. He romanticized it by – and told me it would be our home, but in reality, he spent almost no time there. He expected me to be available for sex all the time. He would come in the house, have sex, and leave.
As a result of my living situation and the secrecy surrounding it, I became even more isolated and withdrawn. My family and friends started describing me as mysterious, and while at first they were curious and inquisitive about my life and whereabouts, eventually they stopped asking. I became unreachable to my parents, my brother, and friends until I had no one that would worry about me, no friends to check up on me. I felt abandoned for the longest time. I didn’t see it then, but he cut me off from anyone that could ever help me.
In addition to manipulating me for his sexual relationship, he emotionally and psychologically abused me. I battle with the effects of his manipulation to this day.
He exerted an intense amount of pressure on me regarding my weight, which resulted in an eating disorder that has been a lifelong battle and has caused me ongoing health problems. When I was 15, I was a normal teenager who had a normal relationship with food and exercise, but he destroyed that. As soon as we started having sex, he started asking me my weight every single day, and this continued into my adulthood.
As you can see, I’m 5’5,” and his goal for me was to weigh 100 pounds or less. Today I try not to think about my weight, but I still hear his voice in my head and it continues to be a daily struggle.
After experiencing threatening physical symptoms because of the eating disorder, some of which I have yet to fully recover from, I asked for outside professional help, but his answer was always, “lose the weight first.” These are words that were burned into my memory because of the desperation and the hopelessness that I felt being met with such a heartless response.
He told me that he knew better than doctors anyway and always denied me any medical care. Now I believe he never let me seek medical attention to make sure our relationship stayed a secret.
Each attempt to distance myself from him was met with resistance, and the worst part started when I tried to break up with him. I wanted a normal life and to be in a normal relationship. I believed in what he said before, “If you ever want to go, I support you.”
But when I tried to leave, I learned that was a lie. He had told me the only value I contributed to the relationship was my purity. I, therefore, thought that if I became impure inside, he would let me go, so I had another relationship. But he did not let me go. It only got worse. He punished me emotionally, psychologically, and sexually
.I had no one to reach out to for help. He acted happy, loving, and caring when I started falling back in line, but as soon as I pressed it again and decided to leave, he would become a monster. He knew the things that mattered most to me and what I feared and used both to control me.
He drove me to the point of a suicide attempt with his cold-mind games. That night when he finally, in a state of shock with blood running down my arms, one of the first things out of his mouth was, “Do you know how bad it could have been for me if you had killed yourself?”
His first thought was always of himself and the potential exposure of his secret, even when I was in extreme distress. He acknowledged that the right thing would be for me to go to a hospital and be placed under psychiatric evaluation. I would have welcomed that help and a break from his cruelty.
Instead, he asserted his capability that he could help me better than any trained professional. He continued the mind games and did not allow me to seek outside help. I really thought he would let me go after that. Instead, he tightened his grip and brought in more people to keep me in check. It felt like I would never be free. There was no way out.
I hold scars on my body from him that can never be erased. They carry immense emotional and psychological pain. They are a reminder of his cruelty and manipulations.
He knew exactly what he was doing. He even asked me at some point if having his initials on my body would keep me from being with other people. He drew pleasure from knowing he had marked me. I was his.
Even when I got up the courage to cover his mark, it has not been enough to disguise the pain and shame that it reminds me of. To realize that someone knowingly hurt your body and drew pleasure from it is a difficult thing to come to terms with; and maybe it’s not something that is ever meant to feel okay.
To brand someone you allegedly care for should never be normal.
I left in 2017 thanks to my sister. When I walked away I had the mind of a 15-year-old in the body of a 27-year-old. I missed out on the incredibly basic things people learn in their youth, so I was completely unarmed and unable to cope. Even after I left, I was still constrained by him.
I was distrustful of almost everyone, including my own family; and sometimes had moments of confusion where I felt unsure I was — that it was right of me to leave. I felt completely alone.
Because of him I lacked documentation of legal status, even in Mexico. Because of him I had no formal work experience and no higher education, which has really constrained my ability to find work. It’s hard to explain to potential employers how I came to suddenly enter the workforce at 29 with such a limited résumé and no references.
It was not until a few months after his arrest that I begun to truly break free of his control. And even now, the effects of his abuse live on.
While the emotional instability has finally ended, I continue to carry scars, physical and emotional and psychological to this day. Because he manipulated me into a sexual relationship, I carry the pain and shame of aborting a child at his direction, which is something that would haunt me every day and a wound that will never heal.
I also have cervical dysplasia, which is a precancer in my cervix from the HPV virus. Every step of the procedure has been traumatic because it reminds me of the way in which he violated my being. The lasting effects of his abuses of me include threatening my ability to have a family in the future in a normal manner and having to deal with long-lasting medical effects.
I want to move on, but he has damaged me in so many ways.
His infliction of stress on me from his actions have made it hard for me to maintain a job. I still have heart palpitations. I still have scars on my body. I still struggle to have a healthy relationship with food, exercise and body image, and I still struggle to understand what a loving, healthy relationship with another person should look like.
I still don’t have a normal concept of family because of how he manipulated us away from each other. And because of the secrecy, he never allowed me to form real friendships.
I am working hard to live a normal life, but I feel the mental and emotional and physical consequences of his abuse every single day. I will never be the same. I never got to live like a normal teenager. I never went on a date until I was 29. I never went to college. I never — and this is where I go blank because I missed so much of my own life. I find it difficult to even conceptualize what I have missed.
As I stand here, the gravity of what he did to me becomes more and more clear, and I fail to understand it sometimes. He hid his abuse behind ideas and concepts of nobility, but there is nothing noble about abusing a child, abusing his authority, and taking advantage of me, my mind, my body, my spirit, my trust. He demanded loyalty, but was loyal to no one but himself. He left me weak, confused, and completely unarmed. He claimed to build me up, to love me selflessly, yet, he kept me blind and lost, controlling everything around me, including my perception of the world and myself.
You see, what everyone got to see was a soft-spoken charismatic man, but I’ve seen a different side of him. I know that other side of him. I know who he becomes when he’s losing control of you. I know the manipulation, the obsessions, the lies, and how he blurred the lines of right and wrong to serve his own benefit.
There has been a difficult — it has been difficult to rebuild myself but not impossible. I am and will continue to grow stronger than he ever allowed me to know I was. Even now, he continues to lie in an attempt to save himself. He talks himself in circles trying to redefine principles to justify his actions.
But I think he really — if he truly believed those principles he claims to live by, he would have honored those, and told the truth instead refusing to take accountability for the heinous crimes he has caused.
Your Honor, there is no outcome where I get the time back and the opportunity that’s lost — I lost, nothing that can be done or said to make me trust another human being the way I did before I met him.
I believed in the goodness of people and giving them the benefit of the doubt, but that is exactly how he got away with so much.
Respectfully, I ask the Court to take my 12 years of abuse and the effects of that abuse that I continue to experience today into consideration in sentencing him.
The hardest part of my story is over. Keith didn’t break me. I stand here today, now I can do my story justice. I will not stand idly by. I will not let somebody else tell my story. That is why I am here, to prevent him from almost destroying someone else ever again.
Thank you, Your Honor.
[When Camila finished speaking, a U.S. Marshal came to escort her out of the courtroom through the same door behind the bench. She may have taken one last glance at Raniere, sitting small at the table in front of the all-powerful judge. Then she turned her back and walked out, most likely never to see him again.]