US parenting ‘influencer’ sentenced for child abuse

Aprilia Rine

US parenting ‘influencer’ sentenced for child abuse
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Ruby Franke was arrested last year after her malnourished and injured son asked a neighbor for food and water

An American mother of six whose parenting advice online drew in more than two million subscribers on YouTube, was sentenced on Tuesday to at least four years in prison on charges of aggravated child abuse.

Franke, 42, who operated the now-deleted ‘8 Passengers’ video network online, was arrested last August in the US state of Utah when her malnourished 12-year-old son escaped from the home of another woman – Jodi Hildebrandt, 54 – to ask a neighbor for food and water.

The child had been bound with duct tape and had visible open wounds as a result of being tied with rope, police records said. Hildebrandt, with whom Franke collaborated on a separate business venture, was handed an identical prison sentence of four terms of between one and 15 years each. Both had pleaded guilty in December to charges of second-degree aggravated child abuse.

Apologizing to her children following her sentencing, Franke said that she had “believed dark was light and right was wrong. I would do anything in the world for you. I took from you all that was soft, and safe and good.” 

In her own statement, Hildebrandt said that she hoped the children could “heal physically and emotionally.” 

During the trial last year, prosecutor Eric Clarke told the court that two of Franke’s children had been forced to live in a “concentration camp-like setting” and were “regularly denied food, water, beds to sleep in, and virtually all forms of entertainment.” 

Franke set up her ‘8 Passengers’ YouTube channel in 2015 and by last summer it had amassed 2.3 million subscribers – many of whom were drawn in by videos of Franke’s suburban family life.

However, some viewers became concerned in 2020 when one of her sons said in a video that he had been sleeping on a bean bag for seven months. Other videos detailed Franke withholding food from her children and “canceling” Christmas as a punishment.

The ‘8 Passengers’ YouTube channel was deleted in 2022 – the same year that Franke separated from her husband, Kevin.

As part of a plea agreement, Hildebrandt – who collaborated with Franke in a series ‘life coaching’ videos – admitted that she was aware of the child abuse, and that she had forced one of Franke’s children to “jump into a cactus multiple times.” 

She added that Franke had told her children that they were “evil and possessed” and had to “repent.” 

In a statement issued by his lawyer in advance of the trial last year, Kevin Franke called for the maximum sentence to be imposed on his former partner over the “horrific and inhumane” abuse of his children.

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