India Oxenberg is attempting to live a normal life after leaving what some have called a “sex cult.”
In 2018, the 32-year-old escaped Nxivm with the help of her mother, former “Dynasty” actress Catherine Oxenberg.
The so-called self-help group subjected Oxenberg to physical and mental abuse, including branding, forced sex and starvation, People magazine reported.
Oxenberg has since created a new life for herself in Key West, Florida. And she’s determined to help others in similar circumstances. She’s the host of a podcast, “Still Learning,” and interviews other survivors and trauma experts. She’s also participating in talks Jan. 21 at Barnes & Noble: The Grove in Los Angele, and Jan. 27 at Books and Books Key West.
She previously wrote a memoir, “Still Learning.”
Oxenberg told Fox News Digital her story is “a cautionary tale.”
“One of the hardest things, when you’re coming [out of] a traumatic event, is feeling isolated and feeling like you are completely alone,” Oxenberg explained. “Being able to connect with other survivors … it’s really inspiring. … It reminds you of human resilience and how much stronger we are than we might think in a moment of feeling weak.”
“I wanted that for a long time,” Oxenberg shared. “Now I feel like I really have that in my life.”
Oxenberg became involved with Nxivm, which hailed itself as a self-improvement group, at age 19.
As she took what were purported to be personal development classes, she was subjected to sexual and psychological abuse at the hands of Nxivm founder Keith Raniere and leader Allison Mack, a former actress from “Smallville,” People magazine reported.
After Oxenberg left the group, she and her mother assisted the FBI in taking down Nxivm.
It was revealed that Raniere, who went by “Vanguard,” used his organization to attract millionaires and other affluent people among its adherents.
To honor Raniere, the group formed a secret sorority comprised of female “slaves” who were branded with his initials and ordered to have sex with him, said prosecutors.
Women were also pressured into giving up embarrassing information about themselves that could be used against them if they left the group.
Raniere, 63, was sentenced to 120 years in prison after his conviction in 2019 for sex trafficking, conspiracy and racketeering.
“I wasn’t really mentally free for a while,” Oxenberg admitted. “I escaped Albany … and then I moved to New York City. I started trying to get a normal job, trying to interact with people outside the group, trying to also juggle a bunch of complicated legal things that were going on in my life that I really didn’t know how to handle. It took me a lot of time to start to rebuild that trust with people who were good, and my family and friends from the past and new friends who [were] emerging in my life.”
“It wasn’t like a week later my eyes were completely open and I could see things clearly,” she noted. “It takes years. That’s kind of a misconception. You think, ‘I’m out, so now I’m free.’ But, really, there can be a lot of psychological interference that doesn’t really make you feel free.”
Oxenberg had the support of her family to rebuild her life. However, more resources were needed to address her trauma.
A combination of traditional therapy, psychedelics and ketamine treatments have been part of her recovery, along with sharing her story openly.
Cannabis has also helped improve her appetite after struggling with an eating disorder and body dysmorphia.
“I think I’ve had to build that strength inside of me,” she said on facing days when she felt hopeless. “There were times when I’ve suffered a lot of … mental troubles. And those dark days … I’ve had many of them. I used to think that when that would happen, [then] that meant I wasn’t supposed to be here anymore, or that maybe I didn’t need to live or didn’t need to try.
“I feel like I’ve had to build a lot of internal strength to just know that my life is valuable, I’m valuable,” she continued. “That people love me, that I’m safe, that I’m not where I was before. I [had] to give myself that positive reinforcement to remind myself that those negative pathways that I am used to going down are not my only options. I think it’s about building a new positive narrative inside that supports life and living and being appreciative of my life.”
Oxenberg also found love. In 2018, she met chef and restaurateur Patrick D’Ignazio. They married in 2020. With his help, Oxenberg has learned to love food again.
“I think I was really scared to open myself up to love,” said Oxenberg. “I think I was also really guarded because as much as I wanted to get close to somebody who was my friend at that time, I had just been burned by so many people that I thought were my friends and they weren’t. I think a lot of people can relate to that of just going through things, shutting down and then having to reopen yourself back.”
“I needed a good friend, and I found that in my husband,” she shared. “I found somebody who was not judgmental, somebody who just treated me like a regular person who had made some bizarre decisions that led to some really severe consequences that I could never have anticipated.”
Today, Oxenberg is excited about life and what the future has in store for her. But she’s also eager to help others look out for warning signs that lead to grooming.
“When somebody’s trying to make you in their image and doesn’t allow you to just be you — that, to me, is a red flag,” she said. “Why does somebody need you to be like them? That defeats the whole purpose of being an individual. I see a lot of that on social media and how girls feel like they have to look or be a certain way to be loved and admired.
“To me, that could go in a direction where you could be more vulnerable to somebody who wants to take advantage of you. There’s an inner strength that’s powerful when you say, ‘This is who I am. I don’t need anyone’s approval.’ That’s important to preserve.
“Another grooming red flag is when people use shame and guilt,” she noted. “To me, that’s a manipulative strategy that can get you to alter your behavior, not for your benefit.”
And anyone can easily find themselves in a similar situation if they don’t look out for the telltale signs, she warned.
“I was only 19 years old. There are a lot of 19-year-olds out there who are going through big life changes, who are going to college, who are starting their first jobs away from home … away from their support system,” she reflected. “You’re vulnerable. … I think a lot of what I thought and a lot of what drove me was this need to prove myself … to prove that I was worth something. That drove me in the wrong direction.”
But there is always hope for survivors starting a new chapter, she said.
“Bad things happen to all of us, and you don’t have to be a victim of that forever,” said Oxenberg. “You can actually choose to rise above your story. … You can say, ‘That doesn’t define me. That’s just something that happened.’”
If you are struggling with suicidal thoughts or are experiencing a mental health crisis and live in New York City, you can call 1-888-NYC-WELL for free and confidential crisis counseling. If you live outside the five boroughs, you can dial the 24/7 National Suicide Prevention hotline at 988 or go to SuicidePreventionLifeline.org.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.