A woman who says she held captive inside a room for up to two years—with little human interaction—at the orders of alleged NXIVM cult leader Keith Raniere recounted the horrific ordeal in court, saying the experience nearly drove her to suicide.
When the woman, identified in court as Daniela, finally did escape captivity and attempted to confront Raniere, she said he ran and hid from her.
“I remember Keith running to hide, dodging through other people,” she said in court of a February 2012 incident when she showed up at a volleyball game to try to speak with him, according to The New York Post.
Daniela was barred from speaking to the alleged sex cult leader by other members, and was eventually returned to the home where she had been forced to stay since 2010 in small room with blacked out windows and only a foam mattress.
During her captivity, Daniela testified that she had little contact with her own family, although they lived in the same home, was only allowed to sleep if she was given permission and could only eat with permission, The New York Daily News reports.
“I would never see anyone,” she testified according to BuzzFeed News.
The punishment, she said, was retribution for an “ethical breach” she'd made by having an intimate relationship with another man in the group.
The witness, who joined the purported self-help group along with her family when she was just 16 years old, said other group leaders, including Raniere’s girlfriend Karen Unterreiner and Lauren Salzman, tried to get her to apologize for the breach but she refused.
“I just could not apologize,” she said, according to Buzzfeed. “I just had nothing to apologize about.”
The isolation nearly drove Daniela, who said she was once impregnated by Raniere but was forced to get an abortion, to her breaking point.
She tried to maintain her sanity by writing letters of apology to Raniere, and fantasizing about going to places outside the room’s four walls.
“I would try to construct something in my head so I didn’t go crazy,” she said.
The now 33-year-old said at one point she tried to write a newsletter to pass the time, but was forbidden from the activity after she was told it was a “huge indulgence.”
Her family, who emigrated from Mexico, agreed to the punishment because Daniela said years earlier she had stolen $6,000 from the group, although she said she returned it the next day.
She had also testified earlier that Raniere used the family’s undocumented status to control them.
Her family would bring her meals three times a day, but only knocked on the door and left the meals outside. She was forbidden to speak with them.
At one time, she said she discovered a pair of scissors left in a shared bathroom and cut her hair but was told by Salzman that she’d have to stay confined in the room until her hair regrew to its original length.
The door to the room was never locked, but Daniela testified that she was believed the group may have been watching her through cameras installed in the home. On several occasions she did briefly escape from the room—at one point checking her email account, however she only found one message.
It was from the man she had fallen in love with wishing her a happy birthday a year earlier.
“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.”
Daniela said the isolation began to drive her crazy and she began to think about taking her own life, even hoarding cleaning supplies, which she had planned to drink.
But she decided to reclaim her life after watching a red bird through a peeled back corner of the paper covering the window.
“I don’t know what it was about that bird, but I thought, I am going to live,” she testified, adding she soon adopted a “F--- everybody” attitude and was determined to regain her life.
Rainere, 58, has pleaded not guilty to the charges against him, including sex-trafficking.
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