VANCOUVER -- Former NXIVM member Sarah Edmondson says she’s breathing easier after the cult’s leader, Keith Raniere, was sentenced to 120 years in prison Tuesday for sex trafficking, extortion and racketeering.

“I woke up feeling very aware of how much more safe I feel, and very proud of everything we have done,” she said of the efforts to expose Raniere and put him behind bars.

Edmondson was an actress in Vancouver in 2005 when a filmmaker she respected introduced her to NXIVM, which was presented as a personal and professional development program.

“I had many years when I learned some wonderful things, great tools, great community. And it wasn’t until the very end that I found out what it actually is,” said Edmondson who worked as a recruiter for the group. “When I did figure it out I was absolutely shocked, I felt like I had the rug pulled out from under me.”

When she went to the FBI in 2017, she wasn’t the first NXIVM member to try to blow the whistle on Raniere. But she had proof on her body. Edmondson had been branded by the group, and had a scar on her hip that spelled out the initials of Raniere and fellow actress and NXIVM member Allison Mack.

“The collateral that I had given, also known as blackmail, was used to pressure me to do it,” said Edmondson. “I had a physical mark on my body that drew people's attention to say, what the hell is going on in this group? I became the face of it in that way.”

Other cult members began speaking to authorities, and prosecutors built a case in New York City. “They didn’t need me to testify at the end which was great,” said Edmondson. “I don’t think we could ask for a better sentence. I was really hoping for life in prison – 120 years makes it that much better.”

Edmondson wrote a book about her escape from NXIVM, and last year a Vancouver plastic surgeon removed the brand on her hip. “She just looked at the scar and we made an appointment and she cut it off of my body. And I now longer have those initials on my body, I am very proud of that,” she said.

The mother of two hopes to one day work as a counsellor for people who want to leave cults, believing she has unique insight into what makes members follow leaders like Raniere.

“I was always afraid he would find some loophole out of it because he’s good at that,” Edmondson said. “But today we know that justice has been served.”