Back in 2011, when Catherine Oxenberg first brought her daughter, India, to a workshop of the controversial group Nxivm, which billed itself as a self-help group, she thought it would be a way to “bond” with her then 19-year-old daughter. But the opposite occurred as India quickly became more and more entrenched with the controversial group led by Keith Raniere. A group which Oxenberg says “has all the earmarks of a cult.”
Oxenberg, 56, tells the story of her fight to save her daughter from Nxivm in a new book, Captive: A Mother’s Crusade to Save Her Daughter from a Terrifying Cult, featured in this week’s PEOPLE, on stands Friday.
“I just wanted my daughter back,” says Oxenberg, who is the daughter of Princess Elizabeth of Yugoslavia. “And if India had left the group when I first tried to get her to leave in June 2017, I would have walked away and Keith would still be up there branding, coercing and threatening women.”
It was over a year ago, that a former Nxivm member warned Oxenberg: “You’ve got to save India.”
In the months that followed, the Dynasty star found out her daughter was part of what was known as a “secret sorority” within Nxivm, a group of women who were considered “slaves” and ordered to go on a near-starvation diet and forcibly branded with Raniere’s initials.
When India revealed she had been branded, Oxenberg was horrified. As she recalls: “India kept telling me ‘I haven’t been brainwashed. This was all my decision.’ ”
Oxenberg went on the warpath, compiling research, speaking to former members and cult experts and putting the information into a report. She presented that report to the New York Attorney General and the FBI, which, in part, led to their investigation of the group, which resulted in several arrests.
But her crusade further alienated her daughter, who, by then, had begun recruiting friends to the group and had moved to Albany, New York, where Nxivm was headquartered.
In March, Raniere was arrested on charges of sex trafficking, among other counts. He now sits in prison awaiting trial this coming January.
Shortly after, Smallville actress Alison Mack, also a senior member of Nxivm, was arrested on charges of sex trafficking and forced labor conspiracy, according to a statement released by the Justice Department. Both Raniere and Mack pleaded not guilty.
Their arrest — and their reckoning — was the moment Oxenberg had dreamed of.
But at the same time, she had to face her own responsibility for bringing her daughter into the group in the first place. “I found it to be weird and creepy,” says Oxenberg, who nonetheless continued to take classes for over a year. “But India said ‘This is for me.”
• For more on Catherine Oxenberg and Nxivm, pick up this week’s issue of PEOPLE, on stands Friday
It wasn’t until June, after Nxivm announced it was suspending its operations, that Oxenberg reunited with her daughter and they began to rebuild their strained relationship.
“India is spending time with her friends and family,” Oxenberg tells PEOPLE. “She is moving forward with her life and will share her story when she is ready. At this time, she has asked for privacy.”
She adds, “I will be as fiercely protective of her privacy as I have been of her safety.”