India Oxenberg Opens Up About Her Healing Journey Five Years After Leaving the NXIVM Cult (Exclusive)

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In 2018, with the help of her mother, actress Catherine Oxenberg, India Oxenberg escaped the clutches of the secretive cult known as NXIVM, after seven years of sexual and psychological abuse. The two assisted the FBI in taking down the cult, founded by Keith Raniere, who was sentenced to 120 years in prison after his conviction in 2019 for sex trafficking, conspiracy and racketeering. But getting out , India soon learned, was only the beginning: “I had no f—ing clue what I was up against,” she tells People in an exclusive interview in this week’s issue. For the past five years, Oxenberg has done the difficult work of healing from her trauma and has rebuilt her life on her own terms. “I’ve taken my life back and I’m learning who I want to be,” she says.

India Oxenberg was at home in Key West, Fla., one Saturday morning in July when she had the overwhelming urge to dance. She put on the song “Belly Dancer” by Imanbek & BYOR, blasted the driving beat and began twirling, swinging her hips and tossing her hair. And then she made her happy dance public on Instagram (dubbing over the video with another favorite tune, Jain’s “Makeba”), a move that “made me sweat like crazy, but who cares? That’s the mindset I’m building,” she says. “I find myself having moments now where I let myself just enjoy being alive in this body. I feel free.”

Not long ago such unfettered joy would have been unthinkable. In 2018 Oxenberg escaped the headline-making NXIVM cult, a group that, for seven years subjected her to physical and mental abuse—including branding, forced sex and starvation. But India, who had first become involved in the cult when she 19, carried the pain long afterward. “These past five years have been heavy—and scary—but you can’t rush the healing,” she says.

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