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Witness in trial of NXIVM leader describes being confined for 2-plus years

In testimony, woman says that at Keith Raniere's request, her family forced her to live in conditions that were so bad, eventually she contemplated suicide.

Attorneys representing Keith Raniere and the group NXIVM,

Attorneys representing Keith Raniere and the group NXIVM, Mark Agnifilo and Paul DerOhannesian, speak to the media outside the United States Eastern District Court after a bail hearing on May 4, 2018, for actress Allison Mack in connection with the alleged sex cult case. Photo Credit: Getty Images/Jemal Countess

Four walls, a covered window, a bathroom, a door. A memory-foam mattress on the floor, three-meals-a-day left in a hall. No fresh underwear, no changes of clothes for weeks, almost no human contact. A pen. And plenty of paper to write incessant apologies for her “ethical breach” to NXIVM guru Keith Raniere.

For more than two years those were her living conditions, enforced by her own family at Raniere’s behest after she showed interest in another man, until she nearly killed herself, a young Mexican woman who had been part of Raniere’s harem testified at his Brooklyn federal court sex-cult trial Wednesday.

“Nobody cared,” the woman, Daniela, whose last name is being withheld, told jurors as her tears rolled in a rapt courtroom. “My family — nobody cared. I’m in a world where nobody cares that I’m losing my life. My parents. Nobody cares. I just wanted it to end. … It was just going to be over. That was my future.”

The gripping testimony came in the fourth week of the trial of Raniere, 58, who is accused of turning NXIVM, his Albany-based personal-growth business, into a vehicle for controlling and sexually exploiting women. He faces charges of conspiracy, racketeering, forced labor, sex trafficking and other crimes.

Daniela, in testimony that began last week, said her family became transfixed by Raniere’s philosophical tenets of an ethical life through “rational inquiry” when she was a teen. He eventually had sex with her and two sisters — the younger at age 16, she testified. Daniela said she became his aide and gave him oral sex daily.

Her downfall began in 2006 when she confessed to a romantic interest in an NXIVM member named Ben, unleashing what she described as a torrent of fury from Raniere, her idol and role model. He ended personal contact, demanding sexual details and steps to correct her “pridefulness” in hundreds of emails over four years, while the group imposed discipline and social shunning.

NXIVM had helped her enter the United States illegally, Daniela said, with no money or job, and she felt trapped.

“I was without a doubt a captive from the moment I was illegally in the country,” she testified. “They had that on me.”

She never toed the line to Raniere’s satisfaction, Daniela said, facing escalating punishments until eventually, she wanted to return to Mexico in 2010. Daniela said she was told she would be cut off by both the group and her family unless she agreed to confinement in a room stripped of “indulgences” leading her astray.

Her parents, she said, were told they had been complicit in raising a bad person, and had to help.

“My family was the only thing I had,” she said. “I had no choice.” She was 24.

She said the isolation in the room was a form of mental torture. Except for a NXIVM “coach” who would visit occasionally to assess her progress, she saw no one, Daniela said, and would listen in vents or the crack of the door to hear her family’s voices, going through “cycles” of being “crazy” followed by “numbness.”

Daniela said she spent days laying on the floor, her arms crossed on her chest “wanting to scream, but I knew I wasn’t allowed to,” and days sitting against the wall, conjuring scenes from her memory of the outside world — such as a grocery store, and what products were in each aisle.

Frustrated, she cut her waist-length hair short to spite Raniere, who loved long hair. It backfired when her coach told her she would stay in the room till it grew back — which Daniela guessed would take years.

The room wasn’t locked, she said, and as time passed, she sneaked out when her family wasn’t home. Once she stuck her head outside, thrilled at the “crisp air” and “brightness.” Another time, she used a device to peek at her email, and was disappointed to find nothing but a year-old “Happy Birthday” from Ben.

“I was gone from the world, and nobody noticed,” she said.

She eventually resolved to kill herself, Daniela said, and began collecting cleaning supplies for a suicide, but altered her plan after seeing a red cardinal return to a tree outside the house through a tear in the paper covering the window.

“I remember at that moment thinking, ‘I want to live,’ ” she said.

Daniela testified she left the house and tried to confront Raniere at a NXIVM volleyball game, but he fled. She left the room for good in 2012. Her testimony is scheduled to resume on Thursday.

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