Catherine Oxenberg - Actress, Producer and Founder of the Oxenberg Foundation

Catherine Oxenberg - Actress, Producer and Founder of the Oxenberg Foundation

Catherine Oxenberg is an American actress, particularly known for her role in the series "Dynasty", as well as the daughter of Princess Elisabeth of Yugoslavia.

She launched her acting career thanks to the sponsorship of the British actor Richard Burton, without forgetting her studies at Harvard. She also tried her hand at modeling and was featured on the cover of several major magazines such as Cosmopolitan, Glamour and Interview. At the same time, she continued her studies at Columbia University to study psychology, philosophy and mythology. She is also fluent in French and Spanish.

Oxenberg made her television debut in 1982 in the film "The Royal Romance of Charles and Diana", in which she played the role of Princess Diana. She joined the successful soap opera "Dynasty" two years later, in 1984.

A strong advocate for women's issues, she is passionate about improving the situation of women living in repressive cultures.
She was also the ambassador of Childhelp, alongside her second husband Casper Van Dien, an association dedicated to the prevention and fight against child abuse.

She created her Oxenberg Foundation to help individuals and families recover from the devastating effects of unresolved trauma. Their mission is to shift the paradigm of trauma from one of stigma and disability to one of opportunity for growth and passage to wisdom and empowerment.

She returned to the spotlight in 2018 with the publication of her book "Captive: A Mother's Crusade to Save Her Daughter from a Terrifying Cult," in which she testifies about her relentless struggle to get her daughter out of a dangerous cult and exposes the inner workings that led her to join it. Her book was later adapted into a film.

In 2020, Oxenberg appeared in the documentary series "The Vow," which followed her attempts to rescue her daughter from the cult.
That same year, both mother and daughter participated in another shocking documentary series, "Seduced: Inside the NXIVM Cult," in which India will speak out for the first time about what she experienced.

The NXIVM cult, practicing rituals, indoctrinations and sexual practices, is led by guru Keith Raniere, and receives assistance from Allison Mack, former actress of the series "Smallville" and number 2 of the cult.

In 2011, India Oxenberg, then 17 years old, fell into the hands of the cult, through the influence of Allison Mack. Thinking she was "a self-help, business-oriented program," India became very involved and Raniere easily took her into his confidence.
For nearly seven years, the young girl will take part in a personal development program called ESP, which is supposed to "improve her life", in a community of 17,000 members, including several wealthy celebrities. In reality, she finds herself enmeshed in "the hell of one of the most devastating cults in the United States".

Catherine Oxenberg painfully admits that she "feels very guilty" and insists, "my daughter was in the presence of evil incarnate. ESP was mainly used, through a funnel system, to recruit young women for this sexual slavery network. Who could have believed it?". She tries a first intervention to get him out, but without success.

The dream program in which India thinks she is participating quickly turns into a nightmare. Raniere starts to control everything: her weight, her sleep... and will make her victim of several sexual abuses. Worse still, hidden in the shadow of the ESP, there is another more secret society, called DOS (Dominus Obsequium Sororium), created solely to satisfy the impulses of the guru. It is Allison Mack who opens the doors to him.

India testifies to her ordeal. "I had no free will anymore. The worst thing was that I didn't realize it anymore. The level of manipulation was such that I felt as if I was acting of my own free will. The girls who were "recruited" had to go through an initiation that was akin to submission, and were then responsible for "recruiting" other girls in turn.
At first a disciple, India became a coach for NXIVM, then a recruiter for DOS. "Even if I didn't want to, I knew I wouldn't be able to climb the ladder otherwise...".
Some "recruits" were forced to starve themselves to fit the ideal imposed by the guru. India claims that Raniere wanted her to look "12 years old", and also accuses him of raping her on several occasions. Another woman on the victim's bench during the trial told the judge that she too was raped by the guru when she was only 15 years old.
India also became the slave of the actress Allison Mack, operating at the top of the cult with untold perversity. She throws India to the elite of the cult, brands her with a red-hot iron during a ritual ceremony and starves her. India is blackmailed, threatened, punished, physically and psychologically exhausted. She devours her personal savings and all her vital energy in the cult.

Her mother became aware that her daughter was getting worse and decided to react, ready to do anything to save her. "She was no longer the same, she had been turned against me. At that time, a former recruit told me about DOS and what was happening there. I decided to act on the spot, without India's consent."

In an interview with People magazine, Catherine Oxenberg said, "It was horror and disbelief. I could never believe anything like that could have happened to my daughter. It seems so aberrant and it was so twisted. And how had it gone from a group about ‘self help’ to suddenly being about branding women?" She tried, carefully and repeatedly, to address the issue with her daughter. But she didn't want to alienate her further and risk her drifting away even more, even though she had moved to Albany, where the cult is headquartered, and only came home for rare visits. Oxenberg also asked law enforcement to investigate the "group." Their relationship became strained after that.

"When I confronted her, I was concerned. I wasn’t angry at her. She admitted it was true and she didn’t think there was a problem with it and I explained gently that there was a problem that she didn’t think it was a problem. How they had 'normalized' it. And then I began to realize how indoctrination really works — and it works because it can change the way you think."

After publicly telling her story to save her daughter in People magazine in October 2017, Oxenberg met with state investigators and helped spark a massive investigation by the New York State Attorney General's office that led to the arrest of not only Raniere, but other high-ranking members, including "Smallville" actress Allison Mack.

It was in June 2018 that she was finally able to free her daughter from the cult's grip, following Raniere's arrest, with the help of The New York Times. "NXIVM had so much financial and political power that it made it unassailable. If it weren't for the New York Times, which broke the story, I never would have made it."

In October 2020, after years of determination and hard fighting, Catherine Oxenberg succeeded in having Raniere sentenced to 120 years in prison. Actress Allison Mack was also convicted, for extortion and conspiracy. India, however, escaped prosecution by cooperating with the law.
"I've been on this warpath to put this man out of business for three and a half years. He always found a way to get away with everything, because of his money, power and privilege. He had access to unlimited wealth and he used his power to silence victims, intimidating, terrorizing, exploiting and abusing them - including my daughter, unfortunately [...] In sentencing him to 120 years in prison, the judge recognized how much of a danger this man is to society and how impossible it is for this man to be rehabilitated."

His daughter India also speaks out about Raniere's sentence. "Initially, Keith was going to get a fifty-four year sentence. But the judge increased the sentence in the face of his absolute refusal to express any remorse, like the sociopath that he is, and despite the desperate efforts of his lawyers."


Catherine Oxenberg says she is "proud" of her daughter, and is gradually rebuilding her relationship with her. "She is moving forward with her life and will share her story when she is ready." Since the end of her ordeal, India has had the red-hot iron mark on her lower abdomen covered with a tattoo, with the phrase "I'm still learning," and has decided to undergo "deprogramming" therapy. "The rebuilding process will be long, but I have faith in the future. Talking allows me to free myself and protect other victims, who may not be able to."

The documentary series "Seduced: Inside the NXIVM Cult," airing in 2020, is available for replay on StarzPlay, Canal+, Amazon Channel, Apple iTunes and Google Play Movies.
The first season of the documentary series "The Vow," airing in 2020, is available for replay on HBO, Hulu and Amazon Prime Video. The second season has been airing on HBO since October 17, 2022.


Written by Julie Poutrel for Adama Toulon.