Once again, this is a story for NXIVM insiders. It is for people who want to get a closer look at NXIVM and what it was.
The Truthiest Life is a podcast hosted by Lisa Hayim. Hayim “shares tips, tools, and conversations that will leave you inspired and ready to live your own truthiest life.”
I had boyfriends from the UK. But Keith always said I was living out my indoctrination and told me it would be a bad relationship.
The way I would think about it is, “Keith knows best. He has my best interests at heart.” So, I’d end up breaking up with these boyfriends.
But I wanted to get married and have children. So, the only way I thought this could happen is if Keith condoned it.
John and I got together because I went to Keith first.
John and I worked together on a project within ESP for a long time. We’ve been speaking every day and were pretty close. I wanted to have a relationship with him, but I was trying to finagle it with Keith. So, I felt like the plan I came up with was a good plan.
I said to Keith, “What do you think of me having a relationship with John? Would this be okay? If John would be willing to marry me, I could stay in Albany [legally].”
Keith said it would need to be a business relationship. He said it must be a platonic relationship for the first two years.
I said okay. But in my head, I was like, “No, that’s not what I’m gonna do.” But I thought, “Great. This means I can have a relationship.”
I asked John, “Hey, would you consider marrying me? [for her green card].”
John said, “Yeah, I’d consider it.”
We got married a month later. My family was in England and didn’t know my plans. So, I shocked them when I told them I would marry him.
My dad said, “We need to meet him on Skype.” My dad said things to John, like, “Are you sure you want to do this? [Marry Sylvie for her to get a green card]” He should have said that to me, but that’s another issue.
My mom flew out to meet John and be at our wedding, which was in a courthouse, signing papers. It was shocking and uncomfortable for my parents. They didn’t know what to do. I was 27. When you’re that age, it’s not like they can say, “You’re not allowed to marry this guy.”
About a month after I married John, Monica, a close friend in NXIVM, approached me.
She said, “Hey, you seem to be struggling. You don’t seem happy since you’ve been with John. I’ve got a project, a secret project, that I feel could change everything for you. It could get you everything you’ve ever wanted in your life. It has nothing to do with NXIVM or Keith. But it’s a secret, and to find out what the secret is and join, you need to give me some collateral.”
Monica said, “Come up with a story that would damage you if it ever got public, and give it to me. I’ll hold it. And then I’ll tell you the secret. I will have your trust, and you will not break the secret. Because if you break the secret, we’ll make the collateral public.”
This was not abnormal, given everything else I’d been through in ESP. So, I came up with stories. But unfortunately, nothing was strong enough for her. She kept saying, “No, this isn’t good enough.”
Monica said it doesn’t have to be a true story. We landed on a crazy story of how I was a sex-obsessed prostitute. And I was writing a confessional to my family.
Monica said, “It must be in an envelope with their address. So that I will send it to your parents if you ever break the secret.”
That was the first collateral for me to get into the secret project. That’s how Monica presented DOS to me. Once I had given the collateral, she said, “Now I’m your master, and you’re my slave.”
I was like, “Whoa, I didn’t see that coming.”
Monica was a close friend. I loved her a lot. And if you can imagine your close friend doing this with you, you might be like, “Well, that sounds weird.”
She presented it as ‘I’m your master, you’re my slave. So you have to do absolutely everything I say, and I’m going to make you a better person. And some of these things will be challenging. But when you do them, you’ll be the person you want to be.”
That was already a hook for me. So, in some ways, I felt like, “Wow, like amazing. Monica’s gonna help me be a better partner in relationships.”
I felt like I wasn’t a good person.
Right from the start, I thought, “She’s gonna make me a good person.” That’s how it was presented.
She said, “I’m going to give you tasks, and you’ll need to do them. And I’m going to collect more collateral from you to ensure you absolutely do the task.”
The collateral was the incentive that you would do the tasks. And not tell anyone what was going on.
So, now I am a member of a secret society. And all I know about it is that Monica is my master. I’m her slave. I don’t know anyone else in DOS. I never heard the word DOS until all this was revealed afterward. Nobody can know about this. This is a completely secret project, and Monica had my collateral. She’d already collected naked photos of me. But again, she said, “They’re going in a safe. I’m not even going to look at them.”
I didn’t know at the time they were going to Keith. So one of the first things Monica tasked me with was, “I need you to seduce Keith.”
I was like, “Seduce Keith?” Like, what? Why? It was so far out there for me. But I was conditioned, like, “You just need to do it. She has my collateral. For some reason, this is good for me.”
I remember I didn’t do anything for a few days. I was like, “What? How am I going to seduce Keith? Like, what does that mean?”
Monica chided me for the delay. She said, “You need to act on this. I told you, you need to seduce Keith, and you haven’t done anything.”
Monica was Keith’s slave. I understand it now. From what came out in the trial, DOS started in 2015, which is the year I became a slave.
I was one of the earliest second-line slaves, which is what they call it. They bring in women on this second level under the first group of women that were 100% Keith’s slaves. The First Line knew they would keep slaves, and Keith was their master. At that point, I didn’t know that Keith was part of this.
Now I was supposed to seduce Keith. Eventually, I sent him a WhatsApp message, “Your glasses looked good,” or something like that. It was like totally benign.
He was like, “That’s not good enough,” which was weird because I was like, “Well, how does he know about this seducing thing?”
I wish I could go back and give myself a “Hey, think about this. Like, this doesn’t make sense.” But I didn’t question anything at the time. He groomed me, saying, “Well, you need to send me a naked photo. This is how you seduce me.”
And then there were more and more naked photos. I had to send Keith a naked photo every day. And all these things went on for a long time.
At one point, I stopped sending him naked photos. Then Monica, as my master, came to me and said, “Why haven’t you sent the naked photos?”
I thought, “Wow, everybody knows everything in this situation.”
Because she had the collateral, I was like, okay.
She said, “You can’t just stop doing it. I didn’t tell you to stop doing it. You have to do what I tell you to do.”
Monica and Keith were obviously in communication a lot.
I was gearing up for it when Monica said I had to meet with Keith face to face, and I had to ask him, “Will you take my photo naked?” in person. So that was what she tasked me with. To ask that question.
I don’t want to go into massive amounts of detail. I had to meet Keith at his house, [at 8 Hale Drive] a disgusting, creepy little house he had for things like this. He took me upstairs. There was a bed with white sheets, stained and disgusting. And I thought, oh my god. The most terrified I’ve ever been in my life.
I asked him, “Will you take my photo?”
He told me to get undressed. Then he sexually abused me and also took my photo. Then he told me, “I am your grandmaster. You’re in the circle now. You can ask me any questions you want.”
I was so terrified and disassociated through the whole experience. My brain was 100% blank. I didn’t even feel like I was in my body. I never asked him any questions like, ‘What is this? What do you mean, you’re my grandmaster?’
Even though he said, “You can ask me anything,” I’m pretty sure I asked nothing, or I don’t remember asking anything.
That’s how I got introduced to Keith being the grandmaster.
The horrible thing was that my relationship with John was bad. For one, Keith told me I was not allowed to have sex with John for two years. We were supposed to be in a marital relationship. We wanted the same things. We wanted to have children and all these things, but I wouldn’t even be intimate with him. Keith fiddled with our relationship from the start. And I felt that John was another adversary during those years.
Nobody was a safe person to me. John was constantly frustrated because I was very cagey. I was hiding things all the time. I never wanted to spend time together. Or if I did, I was very controlling about it because I didn’t feel it was allowed.
I was trying to protect my relationship. I felt that Keith would end the relationship if I got too close to John.
Keith and Monica would say, “If we tell you that you have to break up with John, you just have to be okay with that.”
I’d be crying. “Please don’t do that. Please don’t make me break up with John.”
I was constantly keeping John at arm’s length for that reason. I could not show myself as too close to him because they’re going to take him away. John was definitely not a safe person to me, but he was someone I wanted to be with, as complicated as that sounds. I was also working for NXIVM all the time. They kept you so busy. If I wasn’t working, I would be running 10 miles a day. I was hardly eating because we were all extremely underweight. That was what Keith preferred.
India Oxenberg spoke about how she was on a restricted diet and had to ask permission to eat. I didn’t have to do that, but Keith said my ideal weight was 100 to 105 pounds. I don’t want to trigger people with numbers. But 100 pounds was his ideal number for all women, no matter what shape or size you were, which makes no sense.
I was under-eating, over-exercising, and barely sleeping. Off the charts anxious all the time, working like — I was going to say “like a slave,” but I don’t want to use that word. But “slave” was the label we used, which we were called in DOS.
This is actually making me a bit emotional, like I never had a chance to grieve, that I gave up on my dreams. My life could have been so different. There are so many things I haven’t had a chance to grieve, that never happened because of being in ESP. I’m so grateful that John and I salvaged a relationship. That’s what I would say “salvaged,” and we have Zaidi, a little girl now. But I’m 34. I had hoped to have finished having children and have three or four children by now. I wanted a big family. And there are so many things that slipped away, and I didn’t even notice. It’s hard to unpack that.
Keith was convicted in 2019 and sentenced in October 2020. And now he’s appealing. I learned so much in the six weeks from the start to the end of Keith’s trial. It was deeply disturbing because I didn’t know all that had happened even then. It was the same for so many people in NXIVM, going back and seeing things for what they were. It’s hard for your brain to do that. Wow, that’s what was happening at that time, and that’s what that person was experiencing. It’s so disturbing.
Some aspects of the trial, just the age of some victims. It’s sickening. Those were things I wasn’t privy to at the time. When everything fell apart with NXIVM, I was cut off from everybody in the organization. I stopped talking to everybody I knew overnight. After the FBI interviewed me, I went from having this huge circle of friends to knowing no one instantly.
The subpoenas started being issued to different people. I was subpoenaed. That was a lightbulb moment.
Monica had told me, “If you get a subpoena, tell me, and we’ll get you a lawyer.” So, I didn’t tell them that I got a subpoena. And I got my own lawyer. I was like, “This is my ticket out of here.”
That was my first wake-up moment. After two days of interviews with the FBI in 2018, I moved to England. I went straight full time to being with the animals again and the horses again. Which I hadn’t been since I was 18. I think that just connected me back to my instincts.
She strikes me as a genuine truth-teller. Sure, you could argue that she was gullible. Sylvie could have returned to her parents, but she was in this seductive, all-encompassing NXIVM life. And only over time did she realize what a masterful con artist Keith Raniere was and how everything was based on his crappy view of punishing people. He lived to destroy others’ happiness, and I have no doubt that that is his one goal even in prison.
As for Monica Duran and the other first-line slaves – we can debate how cruel it was not to disclose Raniere’s role. Whether she is more victim or perpetrator.
But one thing we can be assured of is that Raniere was a monster.
It is an atrocity to keep his role as the leader of DOS a secret.
Keeping his role a secret was worse than branding. The branding followed Keith’s lie and was exponentially worse because he told the first line women to lie about the brand being his initials.
It all stemmed from his lies, and that’s what his followers choose to forget. They would not lie to those they love the way Raniere lied. But they excuse it in him. So be it.
I know Sylvie had a chance to make big bucks in 2019 from a British media company. The company told me she declined. Then she comes out for no money and tells the truth. I admire that.