The founder and the former head of sales of OneTaste, a California-based sexuality-focused wellness education company, were indicted by federal prosecutors in New York City on Tuesday on charges of forced labor.
The indictment alleges that founder Nicole Daedone, who was the chief executive until 2017, and Rachel Cherwitz, who served as head of sales from 2009 to 2018, subjected members to “economic, sexual, emotional and psychological abuse ... surveillance ... indoctrination ... and intimidation” from 2006 to 2018 in order to obtain labor and services from them.
Cherwitz, 43, was arrested on Tuesday, according to the Department of Justice. She is expected to appear in federal court on Wednesday and will be arraigned in Brooklyn on a later date. Meanwhile, Daedone, 56, remains at large. The two could face a maximum of 20 years in prison if convicted.
According to Reuters, OneTaste CEO Anjuli Ayer said in a statement that the company cooperated with prosecutors but that the charges were unjustified.
“We are appalled by this long-term, misogynistic, media-driven campaign to tear down a feminine empowerment project and the women who devoted their lives to it,” Ayer said, according to the Reuters report.
OneTaste, founded in 2004, offers courses, coaching and events related to wellness practices, including one called “orgasmic meditation.” The company also has residential spaces at its locations nationwide, where members can engage in these teachings and take courses.
As the wellness startup expanded over the last two decades, allegations arose that led the company to be labeled an “orgasm cult.”
In a 2018 exposé published by Bloomberg Businessweek, former members and staffers described the company as a “prostitution ring — one that exploited trauma victims and others searching for healing” and “used flirtation and sex to lure emotionally vulnerable targets.” Similar allegations were echoed in the 2022 Netflix documentary “Orgasm Inc: The Story of OneTaste,” which included interviews with former members.
In Tuesday’s indictment, prosecutors say that Daedone and Cherwitz kept the residential communes under surveillance and instructed members to engage in “uncomfortable and repulsive” sexual acts with OneTaste’s investors, clients, employees and beneficiaries for the company’s financial gain and to obtain “freedom” and “enlightenment.” Members who didn’t comply with Daedone and Cherwitz’s instructions faced “shame, humiliation and workplace retaliation.”
“Under the guise of empowerment and wellness, the defendants are alleged to have sought complete control over their employees’ lives, including by driving them into debt and directing them to perform sexual acts while also withholding wages,” U.S. Attorney Breon Peace said in a statement Tuesday. “This prosecution should serve as a reminder to both employer and employee that no matter the marketing mantra, this conduct is never acceptable.”
Daedone and Cherwitz also are accused of targeting vulnerable people by advertising that OneTaste’s courses and teachings could heal sexual dysfunction and trauma. Members were also induced to go into debt to pay for classes. Intensive sessions could cost from $500 to $16,000, while yearslong memberships could cost $60,000, The New York Times reported.
“The defendants advertised their company as being able to help individuals recover from past trauma. In reality, they allegedly targeted their victims in order to manipulate them not only into debt but to limit their independence and create a reliance on OneTaste for basic needs,” Michael Driscoll, the head of the FBI’s New York office, said in a statement.
Driscoll added that the FBI would ensure that anyone who engages in a forced labor scheme would be held accountable.