Sarah Edmondson dedicated 12 years of her life to the notorious cult-like group NXIVM and her new memoir reveals the physical and mental anguish she and other female members endured in what U.S federal prosecutors called a secret society of "sex slaves."
The Vancouver actress's new book, Scarred: The True Story of How I Escaped NXIVM, the Cult that Bound My Life, follows Edmondson's experiences from her first NXIVM (pronounced Nexium) seminar in 2005, to spearheading a Vancouver chapter in 2009, to eventually joining a secret sect of women within the group who were branded with the group leaders' initials on their lower abdomens.
Scarred details the physical and mental abuse members endured, including being forced to maintain a restricted diet and recruit other women as "slaves" for leader Keith Raniere. Raniere, who formed what would become NXIVM in 1998, was found guilty in a New York court in June of sex trafficking and other charges under which he was accused of coercing women into sex, using systematic shame and humiliation.
"The first thing they taught us was, if you're uncomfortable, it's pointing to some sort of issue within you, so you've got to stay to work through it," Edmondson told Stephen Quinn, the host of CBC's The Early Edition.
Edmondson said in hindsight there were red flags from the beginning, such as having to bow to Raniere, being told to call him Vanguard and ultimately, joining four other women in an Albany, N.Y., condominium where they took turns holding each other down and having Raniere's initials seared into their flesh with a hot brand.
"I still believed at the time that it was part of this, you know, doing something difficult and painful in order to overcome our weakness," she said.
The author likened her experience to being in an abusive relationship and said it wasn't one incident, but an accumulation of events, that eventually prompted her to flee.
"Something happens, and you put that event on a shelf, and something else happens, you put that event on the shelf, and eventually the shelf breaks," she told Quinn, adding one of those events was finding out sex was involved, after she was under the impression Raniere was celibate.
Before growing disillusioned, Edmondson recruited hundreds of other people to the group who also paid to take part in various workshops. Since escaping NXIVM, she has told her story in a CBC podcast and in her newly-published book.
"I am taking some of that money and starting a fund for people who are victims of NXIVM," she said. "I've made mistakes and this is how I'm trying to fix it."
Edmondson quit the group in 2017 and was a key whistleblower in the case against NXIVM.
Raniere is set to return to court, Sept. 25, for sentencing.