It's been three years since Keith Raniere, the notorious leader of the NXIVM sex cult, was sentenced to 120 years for sex trafficking and other crimes. One of the most unsettling elements of his organization was the hidden sisterhood within it known as DOS, an acronym for Dominus Obsequious Sororium: "Master Over the Slave Women." DOS members found themselves entangled in a web of secrecy, manipulation, and abuse, echoing the experiences of those like Jessica Joan.
Like millions of young, vulnerable women, Jessica deeply desired to heal the wounds of her traumatic childhood. She began with a personal development course – the Executive Success Program (ESP) – which promised to unlock the full potential of its participants. It was a mix between Landmark seminars and NLP, with a touch of Scientology. The seemingly perfect opportunity was brought to her by her friend, whose prominent clients included actress India Oxenberg and her mother, Catherine Oxenberg, and Mark Vicente, producer and director of What the Bleep Do We Know!? She witnessed the presentation on ESP at her friend's house, where she encountered Vicente, who further influenced her to sign up. Jessica put a deposit down and paid around $4,000 for the five-day course (the full program consists of 16 days).
Jessica and her best friend allowed themselves to be vulnerable during the curriculum in August 2016. It was transformative. It was healing. With the presence of other members, there was a sense of belonging. This was the community she had been longing for, and she was ready for the entire course. Eventually, Jessica journeyed to NXIVM's headquarters in Albany to finish the program in its entirety. It was around this time that she became acquainted with the infamous Keith Raniere and Smallville star Allison Mack.
Things were looking bright. Jessica grew closer to India, who later recruited her to "DOS." The women's secret society was sold to her as a mentorship group unrelated to NXIVM, but it would be far from what it seemed. To gain entry, Jessica had to submit three pieces of collateral – compromising material that could be used against her. Little did she know that her vulnerability and personal disclosures during the courses would be leveraged against her by the people she trusted the most.
Jessica went back to LA when she was finished with the program. Her acting and modeling career was going well for her. Despite this, she still felt empty. Mack asked her to consider moving to Albany permanently to focus on her "healing journey," and Raniere texted her about starting a T-shirt business together. She saw these as opportunities to improve herself rather than working tirelessly. So, she moved to Albany.
Everything seemed fine for a while, until Jessica faced a daunting proposition from her coach-turned-friend Allison, who she later learned was deeply embedded in NXIVM. The actress gave Jessica a call. She filled her mind with praise about how much she's grown: You've been so amazing. Everybody loves you. You fit right in. Then, came the startling proposal: Jessica was asked to seduce Raniere and provide a naked image of herself as proof. It was then that Jessica realized she was manipulated into joining a sex cult. "I lose my breath for a second," she recalled. "And the walls just start spinning and melting. Because prior to that, I was from LA, and I had this persona and this good reputation, and people knew that I moved to Albany thinking I was doing some humanitarian stuff."
"And the worst nightmare, the most cliche thing that could happen to me, was accidentally joining a cult and the leader wanting to sleep with me," Jessica tells me.
But Jessica didn't run away immediately – because she was determined to bring the cult down. After playing the long game and assisting investigators in arresting Raniere, Jessica is now releasing a new edition of her book The Untouchable Jessica Joan: The Downfall of NXIVM on September 24, 2023. The launch party will celebrate her birthday and raise funds for "The Wolf Project," a non-profit that fights against child sex trafficking. Jessica shares her story of dismantling NXIVM, hope, and self-discovery through her latest work.
Nicole Dominique: We often find celebrities in cults. What attracts these types of people to these organizations?
Jessica Joan: I feel like at the end of the day, regardless of status, people are people. We're all humans trying to figure it out and find deeper meaning. These kinds of groups definitely are attractive to those individuals because they have the influence to recruit more people. And I think, ultimately, there is good intention when people are seeking that out (when they’re high status) because they want something more. Because if you have everything, but you're not feeling whole within yourself, you're going to be seeking something greater. All the things that you have externally do not matter if you're not internally fulfilled. That’s just most people, generally speaking. Also, anything – even a workplace – can be a cult. A relationship can be a cult. It's all about manipulation, power dynamics, coercion, and control.
ND: It must have been terrifying being an insider. What kept you going?
JJ: Honestly, it's just in my nature, being Filipino. I don't know how much study or connection you have with ancestry, but truthfully, Filipinos are gnarly. Our ancestors have been through a lot of stuff, and it's naturally in us. Maybe not everyone, but it's like the warrior energy inside me. And I think because I experienced a lot of abuse early on as a child. I had to endure life and be resilient. I had to be a survivor. I don't want to say that it was easy, but it was easier for me to navigate that because I knew how to get through things. I knew how to rely on myself and be resourceful. There wasn't anything that was going to stop me. It's like when you view things as life or death, that's really when you're pushed to the limit, and you see what you're capable of. Fortunately, unfortunately, however you want to put it, my life experience is what shaped me to be able to navigate in that way.
ND: Your book, The Untouchable Jessica Joan, resonated with many readers. What was the writing process like?
JJ: I'm a writer and a poet. So I'd already been journaling in my regular life. But when I was back in LA, I was like, I need to write a book. I knew at some point I needed to share my story. I even had Covid-19 at the time, but I needed to get the book done because Allison Mack’s sentencing was happening. And I knew we needed to get the book out around that timing to utilize that momentum. It was not rushed, but it was, like, this was necessary to get out, and I felt really proud about it. Writing it was a super emotional process, super cathartic, and there was so much healing for me in that process.
The intention of writing it and sharing my story was so it could help other people. Because it’s about my own journey of healing as well as my experience with NXIVM. But at the back of the book, I have the Nine Steps of Transmutation, which are essentially the tools that I found along the way or created or that came upon me. To help transmute my pain back into unconditional love, and it's a gift that I have. It's a gift that I essentially want to help other people have for themselves because anyone can do it; it's just really hard, and it takes a lot of work.
My purpose is to help heal our trauma. If we're to move forward and if we don't deal with the traumas, they're going to manifest in other ways. If you look at society, we're a very sick society. Because most people are sick, whether they realize it or not; it's a spiritual sickness.
People are overindulging, hooking up with many people, or looking for fulfillment, to fill a void, or to ease their pain. And there's no judgment on anything. I've done a lot of different things – drinking all the time, doing drugs, or being lost in materialism. And so I had to go through my own awakening and came from all those different things and got to the other side. So I'm like, okay, how can I help people also do that for themselves?
By sharing my story, I knew that a lot of people would relate to these things, even talking about uncomfortable things like being sexually abused and being molested. My story is unique, but then it's also not. These are things that happen to people all the time. And so it's almost like, I don't want to say an underdog story, but when people look at me, or they meet me, and if they don't know anything about me and then learn about my life, they’re like, “My God, that's crazy. How are you like this?” That's essentially a big part of my purpose: to help people heal themselves.
ND: What was life like after leaving the organization?
JJ: I had to get back to work. I had to figure it out. I mean, I went to France, and I shot a short film, that was really great. And then, when I came back around November 2018, I was in the crosswalk to go to Swingers (an LA-based diner), and I got hit by a car as a pedestrian. I had a tear in the meniscus in my knee. The other jobs I had prior to that were commercial modeling and acting and working as a bottle service girl – I'm just going to say “hot girl jobs,” but after I got hit by a car, I had a knee brace. I was working at this very fancy Beverly Hills rooftop, not as a cute girl, but basically as a slave to this hotel company. It was so humbling and extremely difficult. I know a lot of people, and a lot of people know me. They’d ask, “What have you been up to?” But how do I explain anything to them after everything? So, I was in isolation. I spent a lot of time with myself and only saw friends that I trusted.
I was really being protective of myself, and then I went to New York to testify at Keith Raniere's trial as one of the key star witnesses, and it was such a pivotal moment for me. I mean, I honestly wish it was recorded because it was pretty badass, I'm not going to lie. I was wearing all white for one of the days that I was on the stand, and it was just such a crazy experience because it was the same courthouse where they tried El Chapo, and it was super intimidating. So I'm walking into this courtroom, and all these people are just looking at me. Keith is there and the judge. I felt electricity running through my body, and I just had to breathe. I was on defense, they tried to put me in a box and defame my character, but I was prepared for that. But then the FBI agents were like, "Just tell your story. You can talk to the jury as if that's your people." And that's what I did. I just told my truth. I just said what happened, and I didn't realize how emotional it would be when sharing my story, and having so much truth being seen in a huge court.
But it was really hard after that because I felt like a bunny rabbit who had had her fur ripped off after going back into the world. I just had this very intense, powerful experience that only a few got to witness, and then I had to go back to real life and work in a restaurant just to pay bills while having a bum knee. I got depressed because I gained 30 pounds. Eventually, I had to release that original book. I knew that my story was so important and it had to be told in the right way, and I knew that I had to do it. This book is a new addition to the same story, but I added other things after I had time to process everything, heal, and really get back to myself as an artist, and to have full ownership of it now I've done the necessary healing.
ND: What motivated you to retell your story?
JJ: What gets me up every day and pushes me to do the things that I do is to help other people. Fighting child sex trafficking is something that is so important to me. And my two main pillars of focus are to help women, to help them to remember who they are. They're wild woman nature. They're divine femininity, that's what we are, that's the earth, that's the sisterhood, that's all things.
It's going to be my birthday at the end of September, but I'm going to have my birthday book launch party, and I have a new cover. If you look at the old book cover, it looks like self-help, all smiley – that is not the story. That's not me, but I wasn't fully clear about myself and my messaging. Now I'm just allowing everything to happen organically and to allow everything that's meant to be in my life. It's time for me to share my story with the world and let it fly so I can continue doing what I'm meant to do. It's a really big moment for me on September 24, and I'm doing it all grassroots. I didn't take any investors, and I'm also working and making things happen on many prayers. I'm figuring it out and doing it on my own, essentially. It's like if you want something done right, you have to do it yourself, and that's so annoying, but it is what it is.
ND: What made you choose The Wolf Project, and can you tell us a little bit more about them?
JJ: Yes. I'm very passionate about making efforts to end human trafficking, especially child sex trafficking, and I'm very aware of a lot of things that most people aren't aware of in that space. And then with Keith Raniere with NXIVM, technically, the charge they got against him in relation to me was attempted sex trafficking. So it naturally allows me to have a platform to speak on that even though I wasn't trafficked.
I was looking for an organization to work with. I wanted to get involved with aftercare and helping other women with their healing journey in that space. I actually came across this woman, her name is Gabrielle, who I am friends with now. I saw all her videos about baiting predators, and she was really vocal about child sex trafficking. There are other people who are obviously champions in the space, but I just really resonated with her and found that she and I share a very strong passion and intensity for this issue.
So I emailed her and told her I wanted to get involved, and then we just started a friendship. We started talking about how we can help each other, and we built a bond based on a shared purpose. I was planning on doing a launch on my birthday, and I wanted to have the event to give back, so I told her, "Hey, I want to donate a portion of the proceeds (book sales) for this event for the nonprofit." And, of course, she's ecstatic.
Human trafficking is such an important issue, and it's such a heavy topic, and I think that's partly because most people are inherently good, and if you haven't gone through hardships or really deep pain or struggle, it's hard for people to fathom that because it hurts them. So they have cognitive dissonance, and I know that people don't want to hear about it. People don't want to talk about it. They don't want to know. It's too much, and I just feel like, especially at this point in society and in life, that light is being shone on all these things. It's like the Jeffrey Epstein thing, or even with how The Sound of Freedom came out, this has been going on forever.
I've known that I've always had a personal responsibility to be a voice for the things that are not spoken about, where innocent people are being harmed, and now I'm in that space of being ready. And obviously, I've already proven myself through my experience with NXIVM. But it's not to have a badge of honor anything; it's just what drives me to help people and bring truth to light.
If you'd like to learn more about Jessica Joan and her launch party, you can follow her journey on Instagram here.
Don’t miss anything! Sign up for our weekly newsletter and get curated content weekly!