Can Victims Become Traffickers?: The Story of Allison Mack

 

Allison Mack is a charismatic, green-eyed Hollywood actress whose life appears to be glamorous both on and off the television screen. Her stunning physique and renowned fame have allowed her to hide behind a facade that has masked the true nature of her work: recruiting women into the human trafficking industry. As of April 2018, Allison faces a number of sex trafficking charges for her involvement in the organization NXIVM. How is it that a successful, beloved actress could become entangled in an industry that exploits other women?

Allison was born in Germany and moved to Long Beach, California when she was only two years old. She has, for the most part, led a prosperous life since the onset of her acting career at age four. Her prominence grew as she landed the leading role in Smallville and My Horrible Year!. As she matured and explored her musical and acting abilities, however, her life changed when it collided with the world of human trafficking.

Allison’s introduction to the organization NXIVM led to her involvement working in what many have labeled a “sex cult.” NXIVM purports to be a self-help organization whose primary focus, according to their website, is to “empower people” while helping them “realize the potential that exists within them.” The organization promotes this goal by hosting a series of initiatives, seminars, and classes that offer career and life advice to people around the world. Based in Albany, New York, NXIVM is led by Keith Raniere, who founded the organization in 1998. Since its launch, NXIVM has reached over 16,000 people through both in person and online classes.


NXIVM purports to be a self-help organization whose primary focus, according to their website, is to “empower people” while helping them “realize the potential that exists within them.”


The organization, which claims to be guided by humanitarian principles, prides itself on empowering women through programs like Jness, which charge members an upwards of $25,000 for roughly a thousand hours of curriculum. Once the women have signed up for such programs, however, they are forced to stay in them through a binding contract that ultimately entraps them in the NXIVM “cult.” Soon enough, the women originally seeking empowerment would become sex slaves for Raniere after being recruited by the smiling and bubbly Allison Mack.

Human trafficking is grounded in deceit and illusory promise. Allison’s recruitment and role within this organization highlights the levels of coercion that are involved in the sex trafficking industry. NXIVM targeted Allison in 2006 because of her fame and used her to provide an innocent front for this illegal industry. Raniere, who has also been charged with sex trafficking, used Allison as his accomplice in an organization vested in false promise and psychological manipulation.

After Allison attended an event for Jness in 2006, when she was only twenty-three years old, she became a member of the NXIVM organization along with her Smallville co-star Kristin Kreuk. The now thirty-five year old has invested ample time and money into the organization that promised to help her acting career. Allison has since met her spouse through the organization and holds a position just below the “Vanguard,” Raniere.

The women who enroll in Raniere’s classes inevitably become his sex slaves through blackmail. Allison would recruit the women into his program under the false pretense that they were joining a female mentorship group. After being recruited, the women entered a collateral system that forced them to hand over damaging personal information, nude photographs, and confessions that would be later used against them. If they failed to comply with Raniere’s wishes, the information was threatened to be leaked.


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Allison would recruit the women into [Raniere's] program under the false pretense that they were joining a female mentorship group


The women were restricted to 900 calories diets and were branded with Mack and Raniere’s initials on their pelvis, all of which were meant to increase their physical desirability to the “Vanguard” Raniere. The women were forced to have sex with Raniere on demand and to take orders from Allison, who was the leader and recruiter of the DOS system. This system, which stands for “Dominus Obsequious Sororium”, or “Master Over Slave Women,” perpetuated the subjugation of the females who joined NXIVM.

According to the U.S. Attorney’s office, the women who became sex slaves could only advance in rank by recruiting other slaves. Thus, a perpetual hierarchy of subordinates was created. The only means of escaping the subjugation they experienced was by becoming the exploiters that had abused and misled them.


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According to the U.S. Attorney’s office, the women who became sex slaves could only advance in rank by recruiting other slaves. Thus, a perpetual hierarchy of subordinates was created.


Modern-day literature and headlines exclusively frame human trafficking victims as individuals who are trafficked into the industry. But what about the traffickers themselves? Is it possible that many traffickers were victims at one time? This question is often left unaddressed as it is difficult to understand the complexity that is human trafficking. However, a close analysis of Allison’s situation illuminates the coercive influences of an industry that manipulates women to become the perpetrators of an industry that abuses them.

Allison was promised money, fame, and empowerment through her investment in Raniere’s program. Her pursuit of these riches signifies an underlying vulnerability that is common among most human trafficking victims: the desire to feel loved. The women recruited by Allison and other “DOS” masters were promised empowerment by joining a “secretive sisterhood.” The sense of belonging that was lacking in these women’s lives evidently drove them to find such belonging in an organization that exploited these insecurities.  


A close analysis of Allison’s situation illuminates the coercive influences of an industry that manipulates women to become the perpetrators of an industry that abuses them.


After analyzing the facts of Allison’s situation, there is no definitive answer as to whether or not she was both a victim and a trafficker. Sex trafficking is an intricate, highly convoluted industry that uses psychological and physical forces to coerce its victims. These same forces can also be used to manipulate traffickers, who may have started out as trafficked victims. Allison’s story has taught us that this widely underminded possibility can be true for a multitude of cases, if not her own.


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About the Author

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Sarah Beech is a sophomore at the University of Texas at Austin who is studying psychology and government. She is most passionate about fighting against the various human rights abuses that occur around us. In her free time she likes to watch Netflix, hang out with her friends, and try new restaurants. Her favorite quote is, "Never let the fear of striking out keep you from playing the game" (from A Cinderella Story).