A former NXIVM member who was sexually involved with Keith Raniere testified on Wednesday that she was imprisoned in a room for nearly two years as punishment for becoming romantically involved with another man.
The witness, who has been identified by the state only as Daniela, wept as she recounted her time confined in the small room at 12 Wilton Court in Clifton Park, a town outside Albany, New York, where NXIVM was headquartered. The room contained only a mattress, and there were allegedly cameras installed by Raniere and fellow NXIVM members to ensure that she would not leave the room.
“There would be entire days when I would just sit against the wall,” Daniela, 33, said during her gut-wrenching direct testimony, which lasted a week. Daniela said she would often “lose control” of herself, and would fantasize about taking her own life. At one point, as former NXIVM member Lauren Salzman testified earlier in the trial, she passed a note to Salzman and Raniere, which read, “Let me out, I’ve come undone.”
Raniere is currently on trial in Brooklyn, where he is facing charges of sex trafficking, racketeering and conspiracy to commit forced labor, among other charges. He faces a maximum sentence of life imprisonment.
A native Mexican who moved to Albany after taking NXIVM courses as a teenager, Daniela had previously testified that she became sexually involved with Raniere shortly after her 18th birthday; her two sisters, Mariana and Camila, also became involved with and eventually became pregnant by Raniere, who ordered them all to terminate the pregnancies.
According to Daniela’s testimony, Raniere ordered her to stay in the room as punishment after she became romantically interested in another NXIVM member, a man named Ben Myers. As other former Raniere girlfriends have testified, one of the terms of being in a relationship with the NXIVM head was that he could sleep with other women, while they could not sleep with other men.
In March 2010, Raniere became enraged by the supposed “ethical breach,” and sent his other girlfriends, including Salzman, to encourage Daniela to apologize. She refused. To regain favor with Raniere, Daniela turned to Salzman, who suggested, allegedly on Raniere’s orders, that Daniela stay locked in a room as a form of punishment. Daniela agreed, as did her parents, who were also involved with NXIVM at that point. She relinquished her identification papers to other NXIVM members, thus preventing her from escaping back to Mexico, and headed into the room. “I had no choice,” she said.
Daniela testified that she was given regular meals by her family members, who were under strict instruction not to communicate with her, despite the fact that they were living in the same house. One of the windows was blacked out, and she had little access to natural sunlight. She was given little but the occasional piece of paper and pen, which she would use to write letters to Raniere apologizing to him and begging to be let out. (According to Salzman’s testimony last week, Raniere did not read these letters.) Salzman would also come visit her occasionally and try to negotiate the terms of her release, though Daniela said that she was often “mean” to her.
After a few months in the room, Daniela said, she felt that she was going mad. “I would try to construct something in my head so I didn’t go crazy,” she said. At one point, she gained access to a pair of scissors and decided to cut her hair, which enraged Salzman, who decreed that she not be released from the room until her hair grew back. She also contemplated taking her own life, hoarding cleaning supplies so she could ingest them, though she said she changed her mind when she caught a glimpse of hope in the form of a bird having chicks outside her window.
At one point, Daniela said, she snuck out of the room to check her email on a computer downstairs. Save for a brief email from Myers, no one had tried to contact her. “I was gone from the world and nobody noticed,” she said. “It’s very hard to see that the world can go on without you.”
When she finally escaped from the room in February 2012, almost two years after Raniere had ordered her to stay confined within the space, she encountered Raniere at a volleyball game. He could not look her in the eye.
“I remember Keith running to hide, dodging through other people,” she said.