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The doctor who branded the women at the heart of the cult-like self-improvement group NXIVM’s inner sex ring is defending her actions, claiming that the women involved in the upstate New York-based organization wanted the skin burnings at the time and were not harmed.
Dr. Danielle Roberts told NBC “Dateline,” in an episode scheduled to air on Friday, that she was not acting as a physician when she branded numerous members of NXIVM’s secret group, DOS. Within NXIVM, an organization ostensibly devoted to unlocking human potential through a curriculum centered around behavioral and psychological modification, the DOS group served as a way for group leader Keith Raniere to gain and exert control over women who had joined his group.
Members of DOS subjugated themselves to a higher-ranking "master" and were required to regularly turn over collateral, which was material that could be used for future blackmail. Typically, this came in the form of nude photos or potentially damaging personal information, which was held to ensure secrecy and loyalty.
The women in DOS were also expected to recruit others to serve underneath them, in a pyramid scheme-like structure. At the top of this hierarchy was Raniere, with whom some victims were coerced into having sex during their time in the group. The cult-like nature of DOS and NXIVM has since gone public and the story of its true nature was the subject of two major docuseries that aired last year.
When initiated into DOS, the women were required to be branded with Raniere’s initials, which were carved onto their bodies with a cauterizing pen.
When pressed about former DOS members’ complaints about the brandings, Roberts told “Dateline” that this was not expressed at the time by the women.
“I feel badly that that's how they've chosen to perceive it. I feel badly about that — understand that when they were in the room with me, they wanted it. They said they wanted it. They were laughing,” she said.
Roberts, an osteopathic doctor, has not been charged with any crimes in relation to her involvement with NXIVM. However, her medical license is now under review, according to “Dateline." A representative for the show told Oxygen.com that Roberts has worked in several locations, including Long Island and Wisconsin. She holds a license with the state of New York.
When pressed about her Hippocratic oath — the first part of which is a doctor’s vow to do no harm to patients — Roberts explained that there is a distinction.
“I think pain and harm are two different things,” she said.
Roberts asserts that she doesn’t feel the women were harmed when they were branded.
Lauren Salzman, who was both a DOS “slave” and “master,” called the branding ceremony “the most painful thing I’ve ever experienced” during her 2019 court testimony, the New York Post reported. And Sarah Edmondson, a former DOS member who exposed the group in a 2017 story in the New York Times, testified during Raniere's sentencing that she needed plastic surgery to have her branding removed. Former DOS member India Oxenberg said she covered up her branding with a tattoo.
Raniere, the mastermind behind the branding ceremony, was sentenced in 2020 to 120 years in federal prison for a slew of charges, including sex crimes. Other high-ranking members of the alleged cult are still awaiting sentencing.
Interviews with Raniere as well as with Oxenburg and her mother, Catherine Oxenberg, will be featured in the “Dateline” episode, entitled "Collateral Damage." It airs Friday at 9 pm ET/8 pm CT.
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