Actor Jessica Joan had a long-awaited moment of closure when she read her victim’s statement at the June 30 sentencing hearing for Allison Mack, the “Smallville” star who became a leader of the sex cult tied to the now-convicted Keith Raniere and his NXIVM organization.
Joan was the NXIVM victim previously identified in court documents only as “Jay.” Joan decided to reveal her identity as part of Mack’s sentencing in an effort to move on to the next chapter of her life. She recently launched a podcast, “The Untouchable Jessica Joan” and has a book by the same name due out next month.
“I’m extremely strong person,” Joan told Variety, hours after she spoke in the Brooklyn courtroom of U.S. District Judge Nicholas Garaufis. “I think there is a reason why I was put in this situation to handle it in the way that I have. It took an emotional toll. At the same time I’m trying to put my life back together and make sense of everything.”
An actor and poet, Joan has spent the past three years-plus being on call for the FBI and federal prosecutors for the Eastern District of New York as they built the case against Raniere, who was sentenced to 120 years in prison last year on sex trafficking, racketeering, fraud and conspiracy charges. Mack, who cooperated with prosecutors, received a three-year sentence.
Joan was recruited by Mack into the group that purported to be a women’s empowerment initiative, alternately known as “DOS” or “The Vow,” but turned out to be a vehicle to recruit sex partners for Raniere. The group revolved around twisted “master” and “slave” relationships among various women. In her role as a leader, Mack directed Joan to attempt to seduce and have sex with Raniere, in part as a means to help Joan recover from childhood and sexual abuse traumas suffered in her youth.
Mack’s instruction to have sex with Raniere was the shock that Joan needed to break away from the NXIVM organization. She had been living with the group at its compound in upstate New York, but she fled to her native Hawaii. She was not among the group members who endured the human branding ritual that left them with a symbol that incorporated Raniere’s initials in the pelvic area. Nor did she have sex with Raniere.
Joan, who now lives in Los Angeles, has had a long journey through the legal system and her own emotional roller-coaster. The chance to speak out and look Mack in the eye at the sentencing while Joan described the pain that Mack inflicted was daunting but necessary, she said.
“Having all eyes on you and feeling all of the energy in the room is something that’s hard to explain,” Joan said. “There was a lot of adrenaline going through my body. It was exciting and intense but it also felt like a sense of closure and I’m grateful for that.”
Joan also has high praise and deep appreciation for the work done by FBI investigators and the Eastern District prosecutors. “That (U.S. Attorney’s) office is filled with incredibly unsung heroes who have become like family to me,” she said. “They are truly beautiful people dedicated to justice.”
The work that Joan has put in to the case has meant sacrifices. Joan told the judge in her remarks that she used the last of her unemployment checks to help cover the cost of her trip to New York from Los Angeles to speak at Mack’s hearing.
Mack and Raniere were arrested in early 2018. Some months later, Joan received a letter of apology from Mack that she found “disingenuous.”
“It didn’t feel like there was any real sense of feeling or remorse. It was a bunch of empty words,” Joan said. When she made eye contact with Mack in court, “the look in her eyes was just empty. There was no feeling — just complete disconnection,” she said.
In Joan’s view, Mack should have received a long sentence given the severity of her actions with Raniere. Joan said she was “livid” last week when she read reports of Mack requesting no jail time from the judge because she was engaged in studies at UC Berkeley and has turned her life around, according to the defense’s sentencing memo.
“The judge himself expressed that he was grappling with his own inner turmoil,” Joan said. “He feels the gravity of the abuse and the pain the victims went through but in the same breath he considers Allison to be a victim of Keith, which is also true.”
Joan has spent a lot of time trying to understand how Raniere and some of those around him at NXIVM could recruit intelligent and accomplished people into an organization that was clearly a cult of personality. That introspection has led her to realize how insidious the psychological manipulation was that Raniere exerted on hundreds of followers.
“It attracted good people who had colorful histories who wanted to heal and help others,” Joan said. “They blanketed that in a personal development program based in humanities and ethics. They focused on people who wanted to be successful and wanted to get past their own limitations and in that way serve the greater good. That’s what makes it so evil. If you’re joining the Mafia or a gang, you know what you’re getting into.”
The process of breaking away from a cult-like experience is exhausting, Joan said. “The only way for people to be OK with this is to do the inner work and accept the things that happened. And to have forgiveness for yourself.”
Joan’s credits as an actor include the 2013 IFC feature “Contracted” and web series “This Indie Thing” and “Run DMZ.” Now that the Mack prosecution is complete, Joan is turning her focus to ramping up her acting work in addition to being an advocate for victims of mental and physical abuse.
“I went public with the intention of using my story to help other people,” Joan said. “I’m not held down by trauma and baggage anymore. I’m free for a future that looks very bright.”