Catherine Oxenberg reacts to the NXIVM founder getting 120 years in prison and reveals why she parted ways with 'The Vow' docuseries.
Following the news that NXIVM founder Keith Raniere was sentenced to 120 years in prison after being convicted on several charges, including conspiracy, racketeering and sex trafficking, Catherine Oxenberg is beyond overjoyed. “I was praying for life with no parole and that he would have no contact because he’s so destructive,” she tells ET’s Kevin Frazier. “But the fact that the judge gave him 120 years is a statement of how dangerous he considers this man to be. And it is, it’s a proud moment.”
Raniere’s downfall comes after the former Dynasty actress spent years trying to expose the self-help organization as a Ponzi scheme and cult that forced many of its female recruits into sexual slavery. In 2017, the New York Times finally published an explosive report about NXIVM, leading to an FBI investigation and his arrest as well as charges brought against other high-ranking members, including co-founder Nancy Salzman, Seagram’s heiress Clare Bronfman and Smallville actress Allison Mack.
During that time, Raniere, who maintains his innocence, coerced and assaulted multiple women, including Catherine Oxenberg’s daughter, India, who eventually escaped NXIVM in 2018, after seven years spent inside the organization. She claims that she was sexually assaulted, forced to lose weight and had to get branded with Raniere’s initials under DOS, the secret master-slave system created by him and Mack.
On Tuesday, India Oxenberg was among 15 survivors who provided victim-impact statements and expressed why they wanted Raniere to get the maximum sentencing. “You are a sexual predator, and you raped me,” she said, adding that “I may have to live the rest of my life with Keith Raniere’s initials on my skin.”
Catherine Oxenberg tells ET that Raniere is a serial predator who has exploited, abused and enslaved many women. “He is one of the most vile and destructive human beings I have ever come across in my entire life,” she adds.
So not only is the self-proclaimed “mama bear” feeling relieved that Raniere is now locked away, but she’s also “so proud” of her daughter for reclaiming her voice and speaking out against her longtime abuser. “She made the decision to look at him in the face, not avoid his gaze,” Catherine Oxenberg shares. “And she said, ‘I know he’s not going to feel anything because he’s a sociopath. So, I know it won’t impact him. But it will free me.’”
Before Tuesday, India Oxenberg told ET why she was planning to speak during Raniere’s sentencing. “I just need that closure,” she said, adding that “I feel like I would be able to rest” if he was ordered to serve life behind bars.
Now, Catherine Oxenberg says, “She did sound liberated after she made her statement, so I think she made the right choice.” Following the sentencing, she can’t remember exactly what India Oxenberg said to her but she knows her daughter was glad she appeared in person. “She doesn’t have to fear this man anymore,” she adds.
“I am surrounded by exceptional women and men who all worked so hard to take this person down. My family, friends and I are incredibly validated by the verdict. Thank you to the judge and the justice system for exposing this, giving all of our lives back and making us feel safe again,” India Oxenberg later said in a statement on Tuesday.
Raniere’s sentencing also provides closure nearly a decade after he upended both of their lives and the three subsequent years since he was arrested and finally brought to justice. “It's been three and a half years and he’s taken a lot,” Catherine Oxenberg says. “It’s hard to be at battle for three and a half years.”
During that time, Catherine Oxenberg’s fight to bring down NXIVM was captured by the docuseries The Vow, which recently aired on HBO and is now streaming on HBO Max. The nine-part season 1 showed her working alongside former high-ranking members, Sarah Edmondson and Mark Vicente, who left the organization after they became aware of Raniere’s extensive coercion and abuse. For Edmondson, it was experiencing it firsthand as a member of DOS and getting branded with Raniere’s initials.
Not associated with HBO at the time, Catherine Oxenberg says that directors Jehane Noujaim and Karim Amer interviewed her in June of 2017, months before the New York Times published its first exposé on NXIVM. “I didn’t know what I was doing. I did not have a roadmap about how to get my daughter back or how to even, you know, take this cult down,” she recalls. “And they ended up staying and filming me for an entire year. And it gave me strength to have these people who believed that what we were doing was the right thing and that we had to stop this, we had to stop Keith Raniere from perpetrating more abuse.”
However, the reasons she parted ways with The Vow was that she believed her daughter would never reunite with her in front of cameras. “My only goal this whole time has been how to get her back, and, you know, make sure she's safe,” she explains.
In addition to The Vow, Catherine Oxenberg also published the 2018 memoir, Captive: A Mother's Crusade to Save Her Daughter From a Terrifying Cult, which was later adapted by Lifetime into the movie Escaping the NXIVM Cult: A Mother's Fight to Save Her Daughter.
In fact, she credits her time on Dynasty, which included the iconic moment she and Heather Locklear fought in a pool, for giving her the platform to take Raniere on and get the opportunity to tell her story as much as she has been able to so far. “I was thinking about how grateful I am to Dynasty because if I hadn’t had that visibility, I don’t think I would’ve had access to the media the way that I did and I don’t think that this organization would’ve been exposed to the degree that it was,” the former actress says now. “So I got to thank catfight for giving me the platform that I had today.”
After India Oxenberg finally broke away from NXIVM and returned home, it took months and months of therapy for her to come to terms with what happened to her, including being sexually assaulted. “I needed time and I needed space to just take care of myself and process what I had just gone through in the past seven years of my life,” she told ET earlier this month, ahead of the Starz docuseries Seduced: Inside the NXIVM Cult, which recounts her experiences of being recruited and indoctrinated by the organization.
She also made it clear why she didn’t want to document her story with The Vow. Instead, she wanted to work with Cecilia Peck, who was also recruited by NXIVM, and Inbal B. Lessner after learning about the direction of their project. “They wanted it to be a women’s production focused on women’s stories that was raw, real and vulnerable, and showed the complexity of indoctrination and coercion in high-controlled groups,” India Oxenberg explained, revealing that she had her mother’s support to pursue it.
“That’s my daughter's project, and I want to support her in any way that I can,” Catherine Oxenberg says now. “This is her taking back her narrative, really telling the story from her perspective versus hearing it from everybody else's perspective. And I think it was an important part of her recovery.”
Now halfway through its run, it’s unclear if Seduced will include an update in the finale. But no matter what, Catherine Oxenberg thinks her daughter is just “really happy to close the door on this chapter of her life and look ahead.”
And while she’s not part of season 2 of The Vow, she does have a message for Raniere, who recorded an interview with the docuseries from behind bars at Brooklyn’s Metropolitan Detention Center, where he has remained since being convicted. “He does not deserve a platform,” Catherine Oxenberg says, adding, “He has nothing to say that is not going to confuse and manipulate people into hurting themselves.”
As for what’s next in Catherine Oxenberg’s journey? At the moment that remains unclear. But she does feel “deeply blessed” to be here right now, on the other side of this saga. “I am a better person than I knew I was, and for that I’m grateful,” she says. “Hopefully I’ll be involved in other ways and I’ll be able to help find other avenues to help people.”