When Nxivm founder Keith Raniere was convicted in federal court on Wednesday of sex trafficking charges in connection with the sexually coercive group, Catherine Oxenberg burst into tears of redemption.
“I couldn’t stop sobbing. It was like all of this pent up emotion and I was trying to be quiet and not be disruptive,” she tells PEOPLE in an exclusive interview.
The actress, whose daughter India joined the New York-based group in 2011 but has since left, adds, “I’m so grateful to those jurors, I cannot tell you, for seeing through the monster that Keith Raniere is.”
Raniere had pleaded not guilty on all seven charges he faced, including racketeering and sex trafficking. He will be sentenced in September and could face life in prison.
PEOPLE was not immediately able to reach his lawyers.
Prosecutors described Nxivm as a sexual pyramid scheme involving sex slaves, with Raniere at the top. The group has long marketed itself as a group that empowers people and helps them manage emotional trauma, but prosecutors and Oxenberg have said it has a darker side built on coercion and manipulation.
Investigators said Raniere, who was known as “Vanguard” to his followers, occupied the top of a pyramid called DOS, with tiers of female “slaves,” each of whom could become a “master” to slaves beneath them.
Raniere’s top lieutenant in the organization was Allison Mack, the actress who starred on Smallville. In April, Mack pleaded guilty to conspiracy and racketeering charges and will be sentenced in September.
Oxenberg publicly blew the whistle on Nxivm, which prosecutor Richard Donoghue described in court as “a cult-like organization involved in sex trafficking, child pornography, extortion, compelled abortions, branding, degradation and humiliation.”
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She spoke out against the group and her attempts to rescue her daughter, and chronicling her experience in her 2018 memoir, CAPTIVE: A Mother’s Crusade to Save Her Daughter From a Terrifying Cult, cowritten by PEOPLE contributor Natasha Stoynoff, which will soon be out in paperback.
She describes the verdict to PEOPLE as “unbelievable vindication for me. Incredible relief. Closure, finally being able to move forward.”
She said the verdict also represented “vindication for these young women who got up there and testified the most vulnerable details of their lives. Exposing these terrible abuses by this man. And the fear that he was going to get away with it yet again.”
Oxenberg: Raniere Is ‘Sociopath’
Oxenberg tells PEOPLE that when the verdict was read, Raniere had “no expression. And you know, I think that’s symptomatic of a sociopath is they lack empathy. No emotion at all. Nothing. Nothing.”
During the trial, another former Nxivm member testified that Mack allegedly imposed a restrictive diet on India to suit Raniere’s sexual desires.
“Alison was trying to have [India] get down to a certain weight. It was just really hard to watch, sometimes,” the former member, a 31-year-old actress identified only as Nicole, said in court, The New York Post reported.
The Post reported that previous witnesses described Raniere’s alleged preference for his “slaves” to be skinny, sleep-deprived and compliant.
Oxenberg told PEOPLE Mack’s alleged behavior was “horrendous and despicable” and confirmed the reports of her daughter’s restrictive diet.
“I knew India was on a restricted diet of between 500 to 900 calories, but I had no idea it was down to 500 calories for a year,” said Oxenberg. “It’s so many layers of disgust. When you think it can’t get worse, it does. The layers of sadism and cruelty are endless.”
‘Strong and Empowered Women’
In 2018, Oxenberg told PEOPLE India had left NXIVM and was “moving forward.”
She says the trial was eye opening for India and other survivors, “showing the way that they were using these girls and setting them up for sex for Keith. And that was this whole plan. And the girls had no idea. None.”
Asked how India was faring after escaping the group, Oxenberg says, “Pretty amazing. Really quite amazing. And I would say for all of the women who’d been through this ordeal. … They are not broken and they will be stronger than they were before.”
She adds, “They will be strong and empowered women as a result of this experience. And deeply vindicated because I think that this is going to be a groundbreaking case as far as redefining coercion, and sex trafficking. I really do.”
Oxenberg’s memoir, CAPTIVE: A Mother’s Crusade to Save Her Daughter From a Terrifying Cult, cowritten by PEOPLE contributor Natasha Stoynoff, will soon be out in paperback.