Popular YouTube mom jailed for child abuse

Henry

An American mother of six who regularly shared parenting tips on a popular YouTube channel was sentenced to at least four years in prison this week for serious child abuse.

Prosecutors argued in court in Utah that the terrible conditions in which Ruby Franke (42) “kept” at least two of her children could be compared to those of concentration camps. In December last year, Franke pleaded guilty to four charges of serious child abuse and was sentenced on Tuesday to a minimum of one year and a maximum of 15 years on each of the four charges.

Franke’s business partner, Jodi Hildebrandt (54), whom she described as her mentor, received the same sentence.

The YouTube mom started gaining popularity in 2015 when she and her husband, Kevin, started the channel “8 Passengers” (which has since been taken down). This channel, which at one stage attracted more than two million followers, offered tips on parenting and followed the family’s everyday Mormon family life.

Suspicion begins

However, fans became suspicious in 2020 when one of Franke’s sons said that he was forced to sleep on a bean bag for seven months.

During this time, more and more questions arose about the apparently controversial punishment measures to which the Franke children were subjected, including withholding food and water from the children, “cancelling” Christmas and chopping off the head of a soft toy.

The concern eventually led to a petition that thousands of people signed. The petition pleaded with authorities to investigate what was really going on in the Franke household.

Franke and her husband rejected the criticism against them, arguing that some of their videos were “taken out of context”. The channel’s popularity began to wane and it was removed from YouTube in 2022.

When Franke and Kevin divorced later that year, Franke joined forces with Hildebrandt, also a YouTuber, to dispense further advice and tips and offer life coaching to fans. Hildebrandt managed this channel, ConneXions Classroom. She also had her own website.

The two also manage an Instagram profile, “Moms of Truth”, with more than 300,000 followers.

Behind the scenes, however, Franke’s children endured severe physical and emotional abuse from Franke and Hildebrandt.

In August last year, the eldest son gathered the courage to escape from Hildebrandt’s house and call for the help of a neighbour. He asked the neighbor to call the police, and also begged for food and water, according to BBC News.

According to police records, the child had several marks on his body where he had been tied with ropes.

The two women were arrested shortly afterwards.

“Heaven knows how long they could have survived in that situation,” said Eric Clarke, Utah State Attorney.

Clarke further argued that Franke and Hildebrandt kept two of the Franke children, aged nine and 11 at the time, in a “concentration camp-like environment”.

“The children were often denied food, water, beds to sleep in and practically all forms of entertainment.

“They were isolated from others and were hidden when people visited the house.

“They were also forced to do manual labor outside in the extreme summer heat, sometimes without shoes or socks,” said the prosecutor.

“Both children suffered extensive physical injuries as a result of their abuse which required hospitalisation.”

Hildebrandt herself admitted that she abused Franke’s children, or was aware of the abuse that took place. She said she forced Franke’s little daughter to “repeatedly jump into a cactus” as punishment. The children were also tortured, kicked and beaten upon recognition.

According to Clarke, Franke’s children were also emotionally abused, “in such a way that each of them believed to some extent that they deserved what was done to them”.

Among other things, Franke told her children that they were “evil and possessed and must repent”. This information is contained in a plea agreement.

Franke ‘sorry’ about harm to children

During her sentencing hearing before Judge John Walton, Franke apologized for her actions.

“I have been led to believe that this world is an evil place, filled with police officers who control, hospitals who injure, government agencies who brainwash, church leaders who lie and lust, men who refuse to protect and children who need abuse.” she said.

According to Franke, her “paranoia” resulted in crime for which she now accepts full responsibility.

“With great regret and deep remorse for my family and children, I plead guilty.

“I will never stop crying for the hurt I caused their gentle souls. My willingness to sacrifice everything for you has been masterfully manipulated into something very ugly. I deprived you of everything that was soft, safe and good,” reads the report by the British newspaper Independent.

However, her children were not present at the sentencing hearing.

Through his lawyer, Kevin asked the court to impose the maximum sentence on his ex-wife and Hildebrandt. He apparently had no contact with his children for 13 months, and was allegedly unaware of any abuse.

Franke and Hildebrandt will serve a minimum of four years in prison, but their exact prison sentence will be determined by the Utah Parole Board.

  • Sources: AFP, Independent, BBC