This prompted this defensive comment and reply on my part.
[I had certainly not intended to insult an entire gender by defending my friend, Mark Vicente – and giving him credit for his huge role in bringing Keith Raniere to trial and for his subsequent conviction. I replied to Mexican Lady:.
Though my comment was somewhat immodest in calling myself essential, it is accurate to say that no women, except Sarah and Catherine, wanted to talk on the record at first. I don’t blame them.
Mark and Sarah had to encourage most of them. Catherine got some and I got others. This was long before there was any media publishing anything about DOS other than the Frank Report.
After Mexican Lady made her remark about the mistreatment of women, Heidi Hutchinson chimed in, to comment sarcastically and takes a shot at me.
Rather than reply to Heidi in the comments section, I’ll respond here:
Heidi thinks I have not credited any woman with bravery in four years, something I dispute. But I’ll take a moment now to set the record straight on whether there were any brave women in this Nxivm story:
Yes, there were brave women.
They were frightened, but they rose to the occasion. That’s what gave them bravery as opposed to recklessness or mere daring. The cautious women, especially those without money to fight the Bronfman-funded litigation and criminal-perjury machine, who chose to speak up are courageous.
This is not a gender thing. But among the brave women who did not shirk were:
Barbara Bouchey, who fought back in repeated litigation against the Bronfman terrorist-style scorched-earth litigation and kept on revealing secrets about Keith Raniere, literally dropping minefields of damage to Raniere and Nxivm as part of her defense.
She spent years being frightened and not knowing what would happen next. She was even indicted on false computer trespassing charges. Yet, she continued to fight and not back down. When she believed something was true, she became adamant about telling it.
Susan Dones, who stubbornly and with great pluck decided to fight off a battery of Nxivm attorneys and represent herself and her partner pro se in their bankruptcy case. Susan was frightened lots of times, and she could have found a way to coward out of the fight by betraying others, but she did not. She was defiant. And that’s brave.
Yourself, Heidi. It was a hugely brave act to expose the accusations of Raniere’s underage sex back in 2012 to the Albany Times Union. You worked on the story and waited for it to be published for years, while you were vulnerable to retaliation.
In the succeeding years, you’ve continued to be an outspoken voice for justice for your sister Gina, whose death in 2002 remains a mystery.
By your efforts, who knows how many women did not join or get close to Nxivm or Raniere? You are entitled to commendations for bravery and it seems I have done that numerous times these last four years.
Rhiannon. The little girl who said she was raped by Raniere some 60 times when she was 12. She spoke to the Times Union for their 2012 story. That took bravery. To come out and tell the worst secret of your life, the most traumatizing events and relive it in order, as she said, to help prevent it from happening to others. And then after the story was published, the authorities did nothing. Still, yet again in 2018, Rhiannon offered to testify at the trial of Keith Raniere. This is brave, in my opinion.
Gina Melita, who bravely came forward and told her story of statutory rape by Raniere for the Times Union. She used her full name and gave the story credibility because she told it well and put a name and a photo behind it – which means her name is easily found online as a victim of statutory rape. She did it to stop Raniere. She did not get paid. She got no gain whatsoever.
I think that’s brave.
Toni Natalie. Despite my disagreements with some of her narratives, there is no question she was out there first and defiant as hell. If not for her, a lot of things would not have been known in those early days when Nxivm was growing and with an unsullied reputation.
She started fighting when there was no Nxivm opposition. Wherever she could, she joined forces with new people fleeing Nxivm and helped them to fight back. I sometimes jokingly say that Toni is not a victim of Keith but Keith was a victim of Toni because she is a tough fighter.
She played a huge role in the early days of exposing Nxivm. Indeed, there is a chance that had Keith let her alone, he would not have had the early bad days of bad press that followed him like a dark shadow for years. Anyone who knew how to do an online search would find Raniere and Natalie. She was his first and chief critic. I suspect thousands did not join Nxivm because of her.
Then there is Catherine Oxenberg. A lot has been written about her and it seems I did quite a bit of it during the last four years too. She showed persistent bravery to the point of recklessness at times. She got her daughter out and helped spare other women from being branded. Calculating, charming, beautiful, and brave, she went after her goals to get her daughter out of DOS and sink the whole operation.
During the actual battle, I probably logged on more hours on the phone with her than any other fighter. She was in the fight of her life – and she never showed a tear or evinced a moment when she spoke of retreat and this was long before the New York Times story came out that corroborated our hard-to-believe tale of women being enslaved, blackmailed and branded.
Then there is Sarah Edmondson. She was brave when there was only Mark Vicente, her husband Antony Ames, and Bonnie Piesse willing to fight. She was my confirming source on the branding story that cratered the cult and ended DOS.
Later, Sarah did an enormously brave act by showing her brand to the New York Times. It takes a Sarah Edmondson, a one in a million, to go out and risk everything and show the whole world something that you would not want anyone to know – that you were branded.
Believe me, we could get no one else. Not one woman would show her brand to help prove this was a true story. Even those women who wanted this stopped. Most would not even talk on the record.
There might not even have been a New York Times story had Sarah not done what she did – show her brand. That was brave.
Bonnie Piesse. She started the ball rolling by persuading Mark to get out of Nxivm. And she was in the early fight every day. She exposed herself to attack and vitriol when she went on the record with the New York Times, using her full name. Before that, she and Mark were broke and up against the Bronfman terror-litigation machine. Yet she did not shy away from the fight. That’s brave.
The women who testified at trial are brave. Even though they kept their identities hidden, it took courage to come out and get grilled in cross-examination and expose their private embarrassment of joining a Master Slave group and giving naked pictures of themselves.
Testifying there before the jury, with them, and the judge, the prosecutors and the defense lawyers all seeing your naked photos – while sitting right across from them was Raniere. With media swirling around trying to interview you, and with none of them bound to not reveal your name. That takes courage.
Sylvie, Nicole, and Jaye [now self-revealed as Jessica Joan] were brave. No doubt about it. And it was brave for Jessica to come out in public and reveal herself and offer to help others who have endured trauma or abuse. That’s a fine act of bravery.
And there was Daniela who was willing to tell everyone in the world that she was confined to a room for two years. Most people will agree that she is a victim, but it is not the kind of victimization anyone wants to be famous for: “I was confined in an unlocked room for two years because my cult leader boyfriend, whose harem I was in, found out I kissed another man and my family helped enforce my confinement.”
She has, I am told, an important job in Mexico and the last thing she wants is to have anybody in Mexico know her true name, yet several Mexican media outlets have published her full name. She was brave to tell her story knowing the risk.
The story of Nxivm and Raniere has become extremely high-profile. Names may all leak out one day. Consider, the DOS victims have stories that are embarrassing. To the outsider, who has no vested interest in the story, or much sympathy, the tales are ostensibly ridiculous. I recall when the first New York Times story came out about the branding, most of the literally hundreds of comments were mocking the women who would submit to being branded and giving collateral.
It went something like this: “You gave naked, up close, vagina shots, and you wrote false confessions of crimes or immoral deeds, in order to join a master-slave cult that required a lifetime vow of obedience and secrecy? And you want us to feel sorry for you for being a victim? Yeah, you’re a victim alright – of your own stupidity.”
It took a lot of courage to be willing to tell your story in court knowing that attitude was out there. To testify, to try to show that it’s not just you being stupid, but that you were a victim of true manipulation, of predatory behavior, of a lot of things – and take the risk that the jury will believe you. You’re up against one of the sharpest lawyers in the country, Marc Agnifilo, and you don’t know what he is going to do. Almost everyone has skeletons in their closet. You don’t know the legal game. What will the defense come up with to embarrass you? And there is Raniere staring at you. And again, there is your collateral out there, hanging fire, and you not knowing if it will be released vindictively – then or now or years from now.
It took guts to testify.
Then there is Kristin Keeffe. She gets credit, maybe number one, for bravery. She was running for her life and defending a child. That counts too. She could never quite fight free and in the open because she had a child to protect. She did her part to expose things that helped the prosecution immensely.
As I recall, I believe the first phone call after the verdict came in on Raniere that Moira Kim Penza, the lead prosecutor, made was to Kristin to thank her.
Consider, this woman went into hiding, and was hunted by detectives that chased her down to the Florida Keys – to my property – and that then terrorized her with gruesome texts. At the same time, covert agents of Raniere were sent to befriend her and spy on her and who knows what else. She narrowly escaped whatever their plan was for her.
So what’s brave about that? A lot. She was protecting her son, Keith’s son, and she ran again and again, homeless, penniless, fighting to find food and shelter and then, even during this scary time, she gave me information and then Vicente and then the feds.
And knowing that if this thing failed, she would have the massive resources of the Bronfmans leveled against her.
For four long years, she was without a job or a permanent place to stay, raising her child, trying to educate him, being paranoid, trembling at noises. And still, she came out with bombshell after bombshell evidence to help sink the man who terrorized her, the father of her child.
That’s pretty brave.
I’ll give credit to one more brave woman, India Oxenberg. Sure, she did not bring down Nxivm or Keith. Her mother did. And India stubbornly, defiantly, stayed in the group until the moment of truth came – either save yourself and denounce Keith or stick with him and go to prison.
There was nothing terribly brave about denouncing him under those circumstances. But I think her bravery came into play after – when she boldly chose to do a docuseries. She had the courage to try to make a comeback, something that is almost impossible to do – go from a sex slave in a cult to a warrior for justice and growth and self-forgiveness.
Instead of sulking in the shadows, she told her story. And she told it well enough that she won respect for daring to tell the story in which she is not a pure hero. I do not think there are many persons who, after seeing Seduced, do not respect India Oxenberg.
Of course, it helps that she is beautiful and has a famous mother. But as an example of courage, India did not hide in the shadows and try to get the world to forget. She did not even try to make the world say “Poor little India, you poor victim.”
She came out and boldly said, look at my blunders, my foolishness, and my role in my own victimization, but I have learned and I am growing.
Who can’t respect the bravery it takes to do that?
So, Heidi, I agree with you and Mexican Lady: there was definitely a great deal of bravery exhibited by the women in the Nxivm story.