by Paul Serran
The International Journal of Coercion, Abuse, and Manipulation published, last June, a Special Issue: NXIVM & Scientology. This subject is most relevant for the Frank Report and its readers, so I have been writing reviews on articles and studies included in this issue, such as the comparison between NXIVM and Scientology by Professor Stephen Kent, and “Preventing Predatory Alienation by High-Control Groups”, by Professor Robin Boyle-Laisure.
Another study included in the IJCAM June issue is “Narcissistic Sexual Predation: Keith Raniere’s Grooming Strategies in NXIVM”, by Susan Raine, from the Department of Sociology, MacEwan University, Canada.
Professor Raine focuses on a particular facet of Raniere’s criminal behavior — the grooming of women for sexual exploitation and abuse, and “the extent to which he victimized many of his followers — especially those who were most dedicated to him.”
She examines the multiple grooming strategies that the ‘Vanguard’ embedded in the curriculum of ESP, Jness, the Society of Protectors (SOP), and the infamous DOS to disseminate his ideas.
Raine also sets out to explain how “[g]rooming women and establishing female submission were interconnected processes in NXIVM.”
Adult sexual grooming can be described as “any situation in which an adult is primed to permit themselves to be abused and/or exploited for sexual gratification of another” and it involves a good deal of “emotional and psychological manipulation tactics”.
Adults are usually more experienced, and have more connections, so the grooming of adults as a process “may be extensive and often unfolds over a series of stages during which the abusers will ‘mask their intentions’ and ‘prime their target for abuse'”.
It is also known that most adult groomers display characteristics typical of narcissistic or antisocial personality types, targeting the vulnerabilities of the adults that they groom.
Professor Raine notes that “the initial grooming stages typically are characterized by benefits and rewards for the victims”.
At Raniere’s trial, clinical psychologist Dawn Hughes, an expert on interpersonal violence, testified that “by the time negative experiences dominate such relationships, the victim is ‘psychologically compromised'”.
“Raniere groomed women who were already members of an ideological group setting that he had established”, Raine points out. “He was their leader and guide — and they admired and trusted him on all matters.”
One theme that merits Professor Raine’s attention is the sexual control that happens in cults. “Most cults are male-led and patriarchal”, she writes. “[W]ithin these settings, women often ‘are groomed to be subservient to men'”
Regulating sexuality is a potent form of social control, “because the cult leader may be able to manipulate individuals into breaching their previously held values and norms.”
Informed consent, in the context of a high-demand group, is next to impossible, usually resulting in “impaired” or “flawed” consent.
In the Raniere trial, Raine reminds us, psychologist Dawn Hughes testified that “women cannot give consent when they feel like they cannot say no. She stressed that when women believe that a refusal to participate in sexual activity will result in ‘negative consequences,’ then ‘that’s not consent’.”
That Keith Raniere sold himself to be the smartest man in the world is a well-known fact for Frank Report readers. He spent years lying and crafting a ‘mystique’ around himself. “Raniere needed — indeed, demanded — attention and recognition”, the professor writes, adding that “Raniere’s propensity for self-promotion and self-aggrandizement […] are typical features of narcissism”.
His crazy, fake claims continued, never to be reconciled with his bad grades, and he described himself as a great philosopher, an ethical man, and a scientist.
“Many people believed him. He had established a level of ‘positive notoriety’ that appeals to others.”
Besides the aura, there was also the cult structure he built around him. “[H]is early inner circle of colleagues and sexual partners, Karen Unterreiner, Pam Cafritz, and Kristen Keefe, all revered him and were extraordinarily loyal to him”, Raine writes in the article. “By the time he and Nancy Salzman met and started offering ESP intensives, he had positioned himself as the Master of the ESP ranking system […]; and he taught his acolytes to recognize his superiority from their very first class.”
The V-Week celebrations also fit into the pattern: “The need for such displays of admiration is a common feature of narcissism”.
One dangerous aspect of this cult of personality is that Nxians “revered Raniere as a humanitarian life coach who would save the world. As such, they trusted his guidance and knowledge on all matters“. (Italics are mine.)
Narcissistic Sexual Predators, the article states, “have intense self-esteem requirements that they attempt to maintain or repair through predatory sexual practices and the fulfillment that this abuse provides them”.
Because of that, predators will display “fantasies and exaggerations [that] are sexualized” and eventually “the drive for recognition and dominance [can be] synthesized into sexually-oriented objectives”
Professor Raine highlights a horrible dimension of Raniere victimizing women more, the more they came close to him, because “although Raniere often groomed women into initial sexual relationships with him, in other cases he groomed women further, after initial sexual intimacy, […] for increasingly degrading and exploitative forms of sex”.
“Raniere had ensured that each of these women remained in relationships with him only”, the Professor writes, “they didn’t develop conflicting loyalties from having long-term intimate partners and children who would consume their time and also their physical and emotional energy.”
Calorie deprivation was another cornerstone of Raniere’s grooming process, as he “explicitly indicated his preference for thin women; consequently, many of the women adopted highly restrictive diets and numerous food controls”, and as a result, he had “calorie-deficient women whom he could control and groom more easily”.
Another tool in the Vanguard’s arsenal for submitting women is the myth he spread in NXIVM that sexual experiences with him would be an honor, or “a special gift, a way of achieving further growth.”
“Raniere claimed that his semen had ‘mystical’ properties that caused women to see a ‘blue light’ after he ejaculated”, the Professor reminds us.
The article recounts the saga of a young Mexican woman, Daniela, as “Raniere adeptly groomed her not only into sexual intimacy with him but also to believe that their sexual relationship was normal or typical. […] He convinced her that it was her “role” to perform oral sex on him daily.”
It was a modus operandi of establishing ‘female subservience’ with the objective of instilling ‘female submission’ in NXIVM.
Jness, Raine writes, “laid the foundations for female subservience in NXIVM. Members who enrolled were taught that women lack discipline and morals, and that women are needy, impulsive, spoiled, weak, and self-obsessed. […] the curriculum reproached women for being devoid of honor and loyalty.”
Also in the program was the notion that men need multiple female sexual partners and women needed to remain loyal to one man.
The curriculum in another course taught “that women like sex when men are angry. […] [A]n idea that he took further when he claimed that many women experience their first orgasm only when they are raped.”
Raniere “required that they recognize their inherent inferiority and submit to men — and, more specifically, to him.”
In Raniere’s predatory ways, the article argues, the ‘endgame’ was symbolized by the fire-branding, sexual-slavery of DOS. “By the time new DOS initiates uttered the words, ‘Master, please brand me'”, the Professor writes, “they had been groomed, manipulated, and coerced into accepting a wide array of distasteful and abusive situations.”
The multiplying effect of turning victims into perpetrators is also a subject for Raine. “Raniere established a hierarchy within DOS whereby members also became groomers”, she writes. “The following text message […] is revealing: ‘I think it would be good for you [DOS master] to own a fuck toy slave for me, that you could groom, and use as a tool, to pleasure me…'”.
Us readers of the Frank Report know all about how Raniere extorted ‘slave’ loyalty by procuring ‘collateral’ from his victims. “Raniere required explicit photographs of new recruits that incorporated both their vaginas and their faces as initial collateral prior to branding”, Professor Raine writes. “Once they were in DOS, banking information, additional explicit photographs, and filmed ‘confessions’ met the conditions of further collateral.”
These loyalty tests progressively deteriorated women’s self-esteem and sense of personal autonomy.
Raniere’s actions “represent his dual needs for domination and for being the center of attention. Clearly, he funneled these demands into the sexual abuse and manipulation of DOS women”.
How do you coax someone into suffering under your abuse? Call it love: “[ESP course] Human Pain taught adherents of NXIVM to expressly choose pain so that they might foster the ability to love more profoundly, establishing ‘the foundation for someone to confuse pain with pleasure and vice versa’.”
“As a skilled manipulator and groomer”, Raine writes, “Raniere did what many in his position do: He took pleasure in skillfully causing pain to increase his sense of control”.
The abuse took place in an environment that was created by him. “Thus, he integrated practices of adoration, respect, and trust from the outset: He created conditions ripe for grooming and for achieving flawed consent.”
How can it be that many women still admired, respected, depended on, and loved Raniere? And that some still do? Professor Raine’s article explains that “[a]s their esteemed leader, teacher, and mentor, he was responsible for their well-being and security. He had become central to their sense of selfhood and identity, their perceptions of self-worth and value, and their sense of purpose and meaning. He also blackmailed them with his collection of collateral.”
This ‘carrot and stick’ double approach “created a complex combination of contradictory experiences and emotions that likely left many women uncertain of their own decisions and judgments. Thus, for some, commitment and devotion to NXIVM and Raniere led not to empowerment, but instead to the very opposite.”
In closing her most interesting study, Professor Raine sees clearly that the NXIVM saga holds a power over the contemporary imagination that apparently won’t dissipate any time soon. “Certainly, it seems likely that much more will be written about Keith Raniere, the world’s self-proclaimed smartest man.”