The founder and a top officer of a San Francisco-based commune and sexual wellness company that promoted “orgasmic meditation,” before questions of abuse began to circulate, were indicted Tuesday on charges of forced labor conspiracy by federal prosecutors in Brooklyn.
Nicole Daedone, who founded OneTaste in 2004 and served as its chief executive officer until 2017, and Rachel Cherwitz, the former head of sales at the company from 2009-2018, engaged in what prosecutors said was a yearslong scheme “to obtain the labor and services” of volunteers, contractors and employees by subjecting them to “economic, sexual, emotional and psychological abuse, surveillance, indoctrination and intimidation.”
Ms. Cherwitz, who lives in Philo, Calif., was arrested on Tuesday and is expected to appear in federal court in California later in the day. Ms. Daedone, who lives in San Diego, was still at large as of Tuesday afternoon. If convicted, the two women would face a maximum sentence of 20 years in prison. It was unclear who was representing the women.
The company, which grew in popularity for its focus on female sexuality and by providing courses, coaching and events around the topic, gained notoriety for its practice of orgasmic meditation. The ritual was described in a New York Times article from 2009 as involving about a dozen women, naked from the waist down, lying with their eyes closed in a velvet-curtained room while clothed men huddled over them, stroking them ritualistically.
At the time, Ms. Daedone said she saw herself as the leader of “the slow-sex movement,” where the emphasis is placed on women’s pleasure.
Over the years, the company had operations across the country in New York City, Denver, Las Vegas, Austin, Los Angeles and even London, prosecutors said. Ms. Cherwitz told The Times that she commuted to offer private lessons at the commune’s New York City outpost, where many of her clients were married Orthodox Jewish couples from Brooklyn.
But as the group and Ms. Daedone’s teachings became more well known, former members began telling about a darker side to the organization. A 2022 documentary on Netflix examined the company’s rise and the allegations it faced.
Between 2006 and 2018, according to prosecutors, the two women targeted vulnerable people by advertising that the teachings of OneTaste could heal sexual trauma and dysfunction. Members who couldn’t afford the courses, which could cost thousands of dollars, would be induced to take on debt, prosecutors said.
The two leaders’ manipulation and control went further, according to the indictment unsealed Tuesday.
The women subjected members to “constant surveillance in communal homes and collected deeply sensitive and personal information about them which the defendants then used to render the OneTaste members emotionally, socially and psychologically dependent on OneTaste,” prosecutors said.
The group also demanded “absolute commitment” to Ms. Daedone, prosecutors said. The two women, along with others, pressed members to engage in sexual acts, even ones they found uncomfortable or repulsive, as a “requirement to obtain ‘freedom’ and ‘enlightenment’ and demonstrate their commitment,” prosecutors said.
And after promising to pay members for the work they were performing for the company, the leaders would later decline to pay what they owed for the services or they would change their employment statuses or locations without notice as a way to exert control, prosecutors said.
If members did not follow the directions of the two women, they would deploy “public shame, humiliation and workplace retaliation.” They would also harass, coerce and intimidate anyone who they believed to be their enemies or critics, prosecutors said.