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First survivor to go public against ‘cult’ leader Larry Ray explains how horrific videos of his abuse became tool of empowerment

Dan Levin

Writer Daniel Barban Levin, the first survivor of Larry Ray to go public, sits for a video interview with Law&Crime.

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Some of the videos of the horrendous abuse suffered by the first victim of “cult” leader Larry Ray are horrific to describe, let alone to watch. One of them shows Ray striking writer Daniel Barban Levin in the gut with a hammer, pulling on his tongue with a set of pliers and, in the same video, threatening to get even “more severe.”

Levin describes these incidents, and others, in his memoir “Slonim Woods 9,” named after the Sarah Lawrence College dorm where Ray targeted him and his friends for a decade-long campaign of physical, financial, psychological and sexual abuse.

That memoir, and Levin’s decision to speak to reporters from New York Magazine, precipitated the criminal case that released the footage of his humiliation and mistreatment into the public sphere.

In a lengthy sit-down interview for Law&Crime’s podcast “Objections: with Adam Klasfeld,” Levin emphasized that these were blackmail videos, which used to make him and his peers quake in silence.

“It was part of why I didn’t speak out for many years because I remembered the sound of that camera shutter when he photographed me during like this horrible, humiliating abuse, and I knew that he had these pictures and video,” Levin explained. “I was afraid of that, that he might try to ruin my life because no one knew the story. So if my graduate school program just received a picture of me in the midst of this, like sexual humiliation, how am I supposed to explain that?”

That was before the same recordings became powerful evidence against their oppressor.

“The incredible irony is that we were empowered to use this very same footage against him to put him in prison, and to be a survivor of sexual abuse and sexual assault — and have people see what happened to you and understand that you’re a victim and that you deserve justice — and to use that evidence to put your abuser behind bars is an incredible thing that not a whole lot of people get to experience,” Levin said.

Now, those recordings have been reproduced countless times in articles, podcasts, documentaries and TV broadcasts. They can be heard in Law&Crime’s six-part series “Devil in the Dorm,” which was released on Wondery+. The same clip will also be highlighted in an upcoming Hulu documentary on the case titled “Stolen Youth.”

Levin says he personally urged the film’s director Zach Heinzerling to leave the gruesome clip in the final cut.

“I really pushed for it, and that’s the opposite of how I felt for years,” Levin said. “Because I lived with this in secret, and there was no evidence. It was just my memory, and I was alone with it. And I didn’t think anyone would believe me.”

With the chilling audio-visual record, Levin said, he found “proof” — and connection.

“So I felt like I need people to see what happened, and I need them to face the pain, the human pain at the heart of this kind of abuse,” he continued.

Though it’s difficult to watch, he acknowledged: “It’s important for people that feel that, you know, this is like a 19-year-old boy on the other end of this camera going through these things, and you kind of can’t turn away from that, which I need.”

Despite his inevitable appeal, Larry Ray’s docket is all but closed following his convictions on 15 counts of racketeering, sex trafficking, forced labor, coercion, money laundering and other crimes. The 63-year-old will spend the next six decades in federal lockup, effectively a life sentence.

Levin spoke in front of his expressionless one-time tormentor at sentencing, where he unflinchingly plumbed the depths of Ray’s abuse. Ray squeezed his testicles with a garrote and forced a giant dildo in his mouth.

“All my hope will be tinged with fear,” Levin declared at Ray’s sentencing.

He also pushed back at the grandeur of describing what Ray created as a “sex cult.”

“He’s just a petty man who seeks power,” Levin said on Jan. 20.

In the interview, Levin explained why his young and diverse group of friends don’t fit the traditional image of a “sex cult.”

“I think what comes into people’s minds really is like the 1970s, robes and Kool-Aid and Manson, and it takes you away from actually facing the human reality of this being something that happens around us — that happened very recently to 19-year-olds at a liberal arts college in New York, like Sarah Lawrence.”

As for the college, Levin pointed out that the bulk of the abuse happened off-campus in Ray’s Upper East Side apartment, but that, he added, doesn’t let Sarah Lawrence completely off the hook. Administrators never responded to a bizarre email from Ray’s sex trafficking victim Claudia Drury, who was forced into prostitution to the tune of $2.5 million. All of the money went to Ray, who faces an upcoming restitution hearing on those crimes.

The email showed Drury, in elaborate detail, renouncing any bad thing she said about the “manipulative and sexually deviant” Ray.

“I think the fact that there were flags raised for administrators and nothing was done,” Levin said. “I can understand how impossible it would be to imagine how extreme the consequences of that would be. But all of this could have been avoided. So it’s pretty egregious that it seems to me like the one job of those administrators is to keep students safe — and they didn’t do that job.”

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Law&Crime's managing editor Adam Klasfeld has spent more than a decade on the legal beat. Previously a reporter for Courthouse News, he has appeared as a guest on NewsNation, NBC, MSNBC, CBS's "Inside Edition," BBC, NPR, PBS, Sky News, and other networks. His reporting on the trial of Ghislaine Maxwell was featured on the Starz and Channel 4 documentary "Who Is Ghislaine Maxwell?" He is the host of Law&Crime podcast "Objections: with Adam Klasfeld."