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Crime News Cults

Who Is Susan Dones, A Former NXIVM Member Who The Group Later Tried To Sue In Court?

After leaving NXIVM, Susan Dones battled the group in court for nine months.

By Gina Tron

The amount of people who have been affected by the now-infamous group NXIVM seemingly keeps on growing as more and more speak out about their experiences with the self-help organization hiding a secret sex cult within it. 

The pyramid-like group was thrust into the spotlight in 2017 after several former members blew the whistle on NXIVM's hidden inner sex cult with a shocking New York Times expose. The secret society was a group called DOS (an acronym for a Latin phrase which means “Master Over Slave Women") where women were branded after being forced to fork over collateral in order to serve NXIVM leader Keith Raniere and other high-ranking "slaves-turned-masters."

Since DOS was exposed, several high-ranking members have been arrested and convicted. Raniere himself was convicted in June 2019 of sex trafficking, racketeering, and forced labor conspiracy, among other federal charges. “Smallville” actor — and high-ranking “slave-master,” according to prosecutors Allison Mack pleaded guilty last year to racketeering conspiracy and racketeering charges.

While the group attracted nationwide attention after former members spoke out in 2017, there were many people before them who fought to expose the group's illegal activity. One such woman was Susan Dones, whose past with NXIVM is explored in episode 7 of HBO’s docuseries about NXIVM, “The Vow.”

Dones told Oxygen.com that she joined NXIVM back in 2000, when it was just starting out. With a master's degree in psychology and experience helping survivors of sexual and physical abuse, the perceived therapeutic aspects of the group appealed to her. She took a 16-day program with NXIVM and became a member, which led to her opening up her own center in Tacoma, Washington.

Dones said while she was promised she would be making money off her center, the rules as for when that would happen kept changing and she never saw any profits.

"Barely anything was in writing," she said. "And I suspected my commission checks weren't correct."

She told Oxygen.com that she did work for the group in Albany, New York and with its Vancouver, British Columbia chapter, which she helped set up. She also taught classes for NXIVM in Mexico and Ireland. 

But she did have her her doubts.

Dones told the Hollywood Reporter in 2018 that she found Jness, which was the women’s-only group within NVIXM, and its seminar to be quite sexist as far back in 2006. She said that they were taught that people have been raised to be monogamous and that men needed to be polygamous “to spread their seed.”

"I found it really archaic,” she reflected. She added, "They were introducing the idea of polygamy, but with a soft sell, laying the groundwork."

Dones added she saw plenty of "red flags" and "poor management practices."

Furthermore, by 2008, she suspected Raniere of sleeping with multiple NXIVM members and that high-ranking officials were guilty of money laundering and tax evasion. Dones claimed she was asked to stop paying taxes herself, a suggestion she believes would have led to NXIVM having collateral to use against her.

"I would always refuse and then there would be some form of punishment that would come that didn't seem connected," she said.

She called herself a former "high-ranking member who wasn't in their back pocket." In turn, she said they had "no choice" but to "destroy" her.

Dones told Oxygen.com that when high-ranking member Nancy Salzman asked her in 2008 if she would ever cover for the group's alleged crimes, she responded she wouldn't ever lie if she was asked.

“And that was the beginning of the end for me at that company," Dones told Oxygen.com.

She said at that point, she began to feel gaslit and treated differently by members. She also felt like others wanted to take her center away.

By 2009, Dones left the company along with eight other members. Dones said the departing group wrote a letter to the company asking for money that they thought they were owed. In turn, NXIVM accused them of extortion.

"I was told as soon as I left by others who were sued by them before that I was going to be sued," Dones told Oxygen.com.

The group indeed sued her in 2010 after she filed for bankruptcy as a result of debt she said she accumulated from opening up her Washington center. 

She managed to defend herself in court, and after a dramatic nine-month ordeal, won.

Former NXIVM member and whistleblower Mark Vicente, who is featured prominently in “The Vow,” called her an “amazing woman.”

In a phone conversation, included in the series, Dones told Vicente it took her about three months to educate her judge on the case.

“I have the truth on my side,” she reflected. 

Dones told Oxygen.com that she and other former members "never gave up" trying to convince law enforcement to take a look at the group's crimes. 

"DOS could have never happened if somebody had just done their job," she said.

Dones now lives in Washington with her wife and told Oxygen.com that they "have a happy little life."

She is in therapy and said she is still coping with the after-effects of being in NXIVM. While the airing of "The Vow" has been triggering, she noted it's worth it if it helps others.

“Any of this stuff is like someone with taking a knife, cutting your soul open and exposing all the crap you’ve spent years working through in therapy," she said. "It’s worth it because if it saves one person still involved with this evil man from becoming involved in a group like this, I will relive the horror I went through."