British Columbia

She spent 12 years in the NXIVM 'sex-cult.' Now, this B.C. woman is telling all in a new book

In 2005, Sarah Edmondson was a young actress starting out in Vancouver when she first heard about NXIVM. Her new book reveals how what she believed was a self-improvement group proved to be a dangerous cult-like society that coerced women into sex.

Sarah Edmondson's memoir reveals her role in notorious 'self-help' group NXIVM

Sarah Edmondson, who recruited others into NXIVM, says she is starting a fund for people who were victims of the cult-like group. (Liz Rosa, Chronicle Prism)

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.

Sarah Edmondson shows the scar she says was left after she participated in a branding ceremony at a private residence with a small group of other women. (Supplied by Sarah Edmondson)

"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.

Keith Raniere was found guilty of sex trafficking and other charges accusing him of coercing women into unwanted sex. He is set to be sentenced on Sept. 25. (Cathy Pinsky/Pinsky Studios)

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. 

With files from The Early Edition and The Associated Press