It's called Nxivm, pronounced Nex-e-um, and thousands have gone through its various self-help and executive training seminars since the 1990s. As the New York Times explains in a lengthy story about the group, most people take a few classes and leave after that. But others become devoted adherents to the organization and its guru-like founder, 57-year-old Keith Raniere. Now, sensational stories are emerging of a secret sorority within Nxivm in which women must undergo a jarring initiation ceremony. First, they submit compromising photos or similar items as a sign of lifelong loyalty. Then comes what has been described as branding. "A female doctor proceeded to use a cauterizing device to sear a two-inch-square symbol below each woman's hip, a procedure that took 20 to 30 minutes," writes Barry Meier after interviews with witnesses.
"I wept the whole time," recalls Sarah Edmondson, who says she thought she and the handful of other women in the ceremony would be getting small tattoos. "I disassociated out of my body." According to a text from Raniere to another woman, the marking incorporates his own initials—"if it were abraham lincolns or bill gates initials no one would care," he writes. The Times story reports that more and more members are speaking out and leaving the group, and Meier interviews a dozen who depict an organization "spinning more deeply into disturbing practices." Authorities in New York state have so far declined to investigate, and Raniere and other top Nxivm leaders would not comment. The story concludes with a quote from Edmondson, describing her recovery: "There is no playbook for leaving a cult." Read the full story. (Read more Longform stories.)