The first sign of trouble was a naked picture surrendered for the privilege of advancing to what she believed was an elite inner circle of the personal-growth group Nxivm.
Then, in a nondescript suburban townhouse in Albany, New York, the order to strip naked and put on a blindfold. The blindfold removal that revealed four other women naked, on sheepskin rugs. The glimpse of a camera on a mantelpiece, recording.
The last-minute revelation that the dime-sized tattoo she had agreed to have as part of the initiation would be a two-inch brand that would be seared into the flesh below her hip.
The pain and writhing of the women who went before her. The smell of burning flesh. The tears.
When her turn came, Sarah Edmondson lay perfectly still. As the other women held her by the arms and legs, a doctor sliced open the skin below her bikini line with a laser-like medical device, taking 20 minutes to cut lines deep into her skin.