Explainer: What exactly is going on with Smallville actress Allison Mack and NXIVM, the 'abusive sex cult'
What exactly is going on in a truly bizarre court case involving a former tv star.
Who is Allison Mack?
Allison Mack (35) is a former actress who starred on American teen drama Smallville, who was arrest last week in upstate New York for sex trafficiking.
Ms Mack is best known for her role as Chloe Sullivan in the show which aired from 2001 to 2011 chronicling the early days of Superman.
The U.S. Attorney’s Office in the Eastern District of New York confirmed last week that she has been charged with sex trafficking, sex trafficking conspiracy and forced labour conspiracy.
What is NXIVM?
NXIVM started off as an executive self help programme in 2003 out of Albany, New York, but after 2013, things seem to have taken a dark turn. Founder Keith Raniere originally sold workshops urging the importance of celibacy or monogamy for women and "the need for men to have multiple sexual partners," according to the Guardians' court reporting of the case.
A number of women have come forward alleging that Ms Mack tried to recruit them into a 'women’s empowerment group', a secret off-branch 'sorority' called Dominus Obsequious Sororium (DOS), which was a cover for an alleged sex cult in which women were subjugated by branding them with a hot iron and forcing them to perform sex acts.
Women were described as 'slaves' and forced to follow their 'masters', according to court papers.
Former members describe hellish conditions, including starvation to adhere to Mr Rainiere’s standard of beauty and violent punishment for perceived misdeeds, as reported in a New York Times investigation last October.
In order to ensure its longevity, once recruits had proven their willingness to join, they were required to provide compromising information about themselves, in some cases naked photographs ,as an insurance policy so that they would stay silent about the group’s existence. Former member Sarah Edmondson said in the NYT expose that her recruiter was convincing in her logic at the time, saying she believed it was a "trust test".
The initiation process included branding women with a hot iron (a former member says she was told it would be a small tattoo) in the shape of Mr Rainiers' initials, and as part of the process, they would lie naked in a group and beg their “master” for the “honour” of a branding.
What is Mack's involvement in the 'cult'?
Ms Mack became involved in 2006 when she was introduced by her former co-star Kristen Kreuk (she has since distanced herself from the group, saying her involvement predated the brandings and abuse), and she has risen to the top of the organisation over the last 12 years. Kreuk left by 2013.
Ms Mack has been described as the second in command of NXIVM, only reporting to MrRaniere. The U.S. Attorney's statement adds that she was “one of the women in the first level of the pyramid immediately below Raniere.”
“Allison was used, as was Kristen, as a lure to bring in other women because of their celebrity status,” he said.
Assistant US attorney Moira Penza said that Ms Mack was "one of the top members of a highly organised scheme which was designed to provide sex to [Raniere]. Under the guise of female empowerment, she starved women until they fit her co-defendant’s sexual feminine ideal."
Ms Kreuk, meanwhile, has not been charged, and has publicly denied claims she was a “recruiter” for NXIVM. "I am deeply disturbed and embarrassed to have been associated with NXIVM. I hope that the investigation leads to justice for all of those affected," she said.
“The accusations that I was in the ‘inner circle’ or recruited women as ‘sex slaves’ are blatantly false. During my time, I never experienced any illegal or nefarious activity. I am horrified and disgusted by what has come out about DOS.”
What happens next?
Ms Mack appeared in court in Brooklyn last week and entered a plea of not guilty. She faces a minimum sentence of 15 years in prison if convicted on all of her charges. Mack is now said to be considering a plea deal and proceedings have been delayed until May 3.