Health and wellness

Women branded with initials of ‘cult leader’ and traumatised by ‘self-help’ group’s doctors

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 21 October, 2017, 10:01am
UPDATED : Saturday, 21 October, 2017, 8:19pm

Women say they were branded and traumatised by doctors in a secretive group, and state officials will review why authorities didn’t act sooner on the women’s reports, a spokesman for New York Governor Andrew Cuomo said on Friday.

State officials will examine whether the women’s complaints warrant an investigation now, the Democratic governor’s spokesman Richard Azzopardi said.

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The action comes after The New York Times reported on complaints about a group affiliated with the self-help organisation NXIVM, which is based in suburban Albany and has chapters across the country. Wikipedia describes NXIVM as a “pyramid selling organisation”. On its website, NXIVM calls the women’s complaints “lies”.

In a complaint filed with the state Department of Health over the summer and shared with the Times, a woman said Dr Brandon Porter, of the Albany suburb Clifton Park, did studies on behalf of NXIVM’s personal development programme. In one study, she said, Porter connected her to brainwave monitoring equipment and without warning showed her film clips depicting extreme violence including gang rape. She said she has been haunted by the images for almost a year.

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Other women complained to the health department that Dr Danielle Roberts, a family doctor in Clifton Park, used a surgical device to burn brands on women’s lower abdomens during their initiations into a secret sorority within NXIVM.

Porter resigned his position as a general practitioner at St Peter’s Hospital in Albany after the Times story was published, a hospital spokesman said.

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Roberts didn’t respond to a phone message on Friday and Porter’s phone number is ex-directory. The Times said neither doctor responded to repeated inquiries seeking comment.

The newspaper’s story said several former NXIVM members described the painful initiation into a secret sisterhood within the self-help group. One said she was told she would get a small tattoo, but instead was held down by three women while a 5cm-wide symbol including NXIVM founder Keith Raniere’s initials was seared into her skin. She said group members were sworn to secrecy.

NXIVM posted a statement on its website saying a media outlet had incorrectly linked it to a “social group”. It called the allegations “lies” and “a criminal product of criminal minds”.

In an investigative story by the Albany Times Union in 2012, critics described NXIVM as a multilevel marketing business and Raniere as a cult leader who has drawn more than 10,000 followers to his self-improvement philosophy.

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The New York Times said Raniere and other NXIVM officials didn’t respond to repeated requests for comment.

NXIVM’s website says its mission is to “help transform and, ultimately, be an expression of the noble civilisation of humans”.