‘The Vow’: India Oxenberg Was the First One to Be Branded in ‘Inhumane’ NXIVM Sex Cult

HBO‘s The Vow is the latest docuseries to sweep the nation — so much so that it was just renewed for another season. It tells the story of Keith Raniere and the sex cult tied to NXIVM, his multi-level marketing company that recruited thousands of people over two decades. Among some of the familiar faces involved are Smallville actress Allison Mack and Dynasty star Catherine Oxenberg, as well as Oxenberg’s daughter India.

Allison Mack leaves U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of New York after a bail hearing | Drew Angerer/Getty Images
Allison Mack leaves U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of New York after a bail hearing | Drew Angerer/Getty Images

‘The Vow’ explores the NXIVM sex cult

Over the course of nine episodes, The Vow dives in to the systematic brainwashing and gaslighting that its members faced. At the core of NXIVM is its “Executive Success Programs,” or ESP. Members follow the professional development tracks for each level of ESP, having to shell out lots of money for the different requisite courses at each level.

The more sinister side of NXIVM is DOS, or “Dominus Obsequious Sororium” — a Latin phrase that translates to “Master over slave woman.” DOS is exactly what it sounds like: many women were groomed and recruited from NXIVM’s female empowerment program Jness to join DOS, and agree to be a submissive who obeys everything their “master” says.

Catherine Oxenberg, India Oxenberg and Casper Van Dien | E. Charbonneau/WireImage for Showtime Networks
Catherine Oxenberg, India Oxenberg and Casper Van Dien | E. Charbonneau/WireImage for Showtime Networks

RELATED: ‘The Vow’: Catherine Oxenberg Talks Confronting Her Daughter About NXIVM’s DOS and Being Branded

‘Dynasty’ star Catherine Oxenberg lost her daughter to NXIVM for 7 years

One of the stars of The Vow is Catherine Oxenberg, the real-life royalty who was on Dynasty back in the day. She introduced her daughter India to NXIVM in 2011, but soon realized the manipulative ways that Raniere and the higher-up members of NXIVM worked.

India broke her silence in an interview with Good Morning America — her first TV appearance since leaving the cult. She said that they tried to break the bond between her and her mother right from the start.

“What I thought I was learning was self-help and personal growth. What I was learning was the opposite,” she told GMA. “It was inhumane.”

India Oxenberg was ‘systematically groomed’ into joining DOS

Oxenberg was a part of NXIVM for seven years, and was asked to join DOS after five years. In that time, her mother tried many times to reach out to her and get through to her, but her daughter dismissed her concerns as misguided.

As a part of DOS, Oxenberg kept a strict diet that was monitored by Raniere and her “master” and swore an oath to serve him. She was told it was a secret society for women that offered one-on-one coaching, but it soon ended up with her being branded with Raniere’s initials.

Oxenberg left NXIVM altogether in 2018, and she’s broken her silence in the time since The Vow started airing.

In an interview on The Doctors, she discussed how she was brainwashed into joining DOS from the very beginning when she joined NXIVM. “I went into this when I was 19 years old, so very young, and what I didn’t realize is that I was being systematically groomed towards something that would happen later on — almost five years later,” the now 29-year-old said.

“Looking back I see the warning signs,” she told Elle.

Allison Mack convinced India Oxenberg to be the first one to be branded

One of the rites of passage in DOS was to get a painful brand with what they were told was a symbol standing for the different elements near their genitals; the brand was actually a design with Keith Raniere’s initials. Oxenberg was personally recruited to join DOS by none other than Mack.

Oxenberg recalled the horrific details in an interview with People magazine. It was January 2016. She was instructed to remove her clothes, and along with several other women, she was told to walk into a room that had a table. She was the first one to lay on the table.

“I had two women holding my hands and my feet so I wouldn’t convulse,” she remembered. She was then branded with Raniere’s initials. “I remember the smell — of flesh,” she admitted. “I remember crying but not with pain. There was no choice to say no.”