September 30, 2023

Founder, ex-director of high-strung sexual wellness company OneTaste charged with conspiracy to commit forced labor

NEW YORK (AP) — Two former executives of a company known for offering “orgasmic meditation” sessions have been accused of using sex, psychological abuse and economic exploitation to coerce work from people while they take over their lives, federal prosecutors said Tuesday.

The case follows years of scrutiny and a recent Netflix documentary about the company known as OneTaste.

Former sales chief Rachel Cherwitz was arrested in Northern California and was due to appear in court on Wednesday, while founder and ex-CEO Nicole Daedone remained at large. Both were charged with forced labor conspiracy.

“Under the guise of empowerment and welfare, the defendants allegedly sought complete control over their employees’ lives, including by driving them into debt and ordering them to perform sexual acts, while also withholding wages,” said Breon. Peace, U.S. Attorney in Brooklyn. whose office successfully prosecuted the leader and other figures in the cult-like group NXIVM.

Emails requesting comment were sent to attorneys for Daedone and Cherwitz. OneTaste called the allegations “completely unfounded,” said its “orgasmic meditation” (or “OM”) work has been misunderstood, and blamed a “long-running, misogynistic, media-driven campaign to promote a project for female empowering and breaking down the women”. who have dedicated their lives to it.”

“OneTaste, under its current owner, has strived to improve, listen to criticism, adapt and evolve in ways that bring those myriad benefits to many more people, who are able to practice OM in their own time and on their own terms,” ​​the Santa Rosa, California-based company said in a statement.

Following allegations that have aired in years of articles, podcasts and more about the company, prosecutors say in court documents that Cherwitz and Daedone targeted vulnerable people by pitching OneTaste courses as a salve for sexual trauma.

Then, according to prosecutors, the two executives made OneTaste members dependents by making them live and work together, encouraging them to cut off contact with outsiders, hoarding highly personal information, and demanding full commitment — even if this meant that the members engaged in sexual behavior. found repulsive.

Daedone and Cherwitz pushed people into going into debt — even helping them open new credit cards — for courses and coaching that could run into the tens of thousands of dollars, prosecutors say.

Founded around 2005 in San Francisco, OneTaste started out as a silent player on the fringes of the city’s scenes of self-discovery and sexual experimentation.

Several years later, major news outlets gave the public a glimpse of the company. It was described as a community-living group focused on female orgasms as a means of sexual and psychological well-being and human connection—a philosophy practiced in group sessions of “orgasmic meditation” in which men stimulated women.

Soon Daedone had a book published and was speaking at venues like South by Southwest and the TEDx talk series. The company set up offices in London, Los Angeles and New York, among others, and entered the radar of celebrities. Khloe Kardashian listed Daedone’s “Slow Sex” on a 2017 book list. Gwyneth Paltrow’s Goop wellness empire featured Daedone on his podcast and in a panel discussion.

By 2018, Joanna Van Vleck, then CEO of OneTaste, boasted to Bloomberg Businessweek that OneTaste was “the whole food of sexuality – the organic, good-for-you version”, stating that “orgasm is part of wellness”. Van Vleck has not been charged in the case.

From the start, OneTaste raised some questions about Daedone’s guru-like image within the group. Daedone herself told The New York Times in 2009 that “there’s great potential for this to become a cult,” and said she was wary of making sure it didn’t. (The company says it sold its stake in 2017.)

The questions got louder in a 2018 survey by Bloomberg Businessweek. Among other things, it revealed that OneTaste had paid $325,000 to settle a former sales representative’s claim of sexual assault, sexual harassment and employment violations, including an order to sleep with clients and managers.

OneTaste called the image “outrageous.” The company said employees were not required to do anything sexual, it did not use sex or psychological manipulation as a marketing ploy and its policies were adjusted to ensure customers don’t feel indebted. Cherwitz, meanwhile, resigned as sales chief during Bloomberg Businessweek reporting.

But more journalistic dives into OneTaste followed, including Netflix’s “Orgasm Inc” last fall.

The company’s website says the new owners have launched new digital components, including an app, as it continues its efforts “to make the world human again.”

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