Parenting advice YouTuber given maximum sentence for child abuse

Parenting advice YouTuber given maximum sentence for child abuse
Parenting advice YouTuber given maximum sentence for child abuse

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Hind Al Soulia - Riyadh - SALT LAKE CITY — A Utah mother whose harsh parenting advice made her a YouTube influencer has been sentenced to at least four years in prison for child abuse.

Ruby Franke, 42, tearfully apologized in court as she learned her fate. She previously pleaded guilty to starving and abusing her children.

She appeared along with her former business partner Jodi Hildebrandt, 54, who received an identical sentence.

The judge sentenced them to serve four terms of one to 15 years each.

The sentences will run consecutively and are the maximum for each count under Utah law. How much time each will ultimately serve will be determined by the state's parole board.

Franke will have 30 days to appeal the decision.

In court, Utah prosecutor Eric Clarke said that two of Franke's children, aged nine and 11 at the time, lived in a "concentration camp-like setting" and called her a significant threat to the community.

"The children were regularly denied food, water, beds to sleep in, and virtually all forms of entertainment," Clarke said.

In court, Franke was in tears following the sentence. She apologised to her children and said: "I was so disoriented that I believed dark was light and right was wrong."

"I was led to believe that this world was an evil place, filled with cops who control, hospitals that injure, government agencies that brainwash, church leaders who lie and lust, husbands who refuse to protect and children who need abuse," she said.

The two women were arrested in August 2023 after Franke's malnourished 12-year-old son climbed out of a window at Hildebrandt's house in Ivins, Utah. Police said the child then ran to a neighbour's house and asked for food and water. He had lacerations from being tied up with rope, according to police records.

The arrests marked the end of a long and controversial YouTube career. Franke racked up more than two million subscribers to her channel 8 Passengers, which she started in 2015.

It was a boom time for parenting vloggers, and she told a local news outlet that filming with her family helped her "live in the present and just enjoy the kids".

Her videos showed a typical Mormon suburban family home-schooling, cooking, eating and chatting together.

But fans started to become suspicious in 2020, when one of her sons mentioned that he had been forced to sleep on a bean bag for seven months.

YouTube viewers combed through her archives and pointed out other disturbing and controversial methods used by Franke - such as withholding food, threatening to chop the head off a toy stuffed animal and "cancelling" Christmas as a punishment.

A petition started by one demanding an investigation brought in thousands of signatures and Utah's child protection agency was called, although no legal action was taken at the time. Franke and her husband initially dismissed the criticism and said that some of their clips had been taken out of context.

But the channel began to decline in popularity and was deleted in 2022, the same year Franke and her husband separated.

Franke then began appearing in YouTube videos posted by Ms Hildebrandt - a counsellor and life coach - on her site, ConneXions Classroom.

Away from the camera, however, Franke's children were being subjected to even harsher abuse.

This included tying them up, beating and kicking them, neglecting to feed them and forcing them to work outdoors in the summer without sunscreen, resulting in serious sunburn, according to police records.

In a plea agreement, Hildebrandt stated that she either tortured the children or was aware of the abuse and that she forced one of Franke's daughters to "jump into a cactus multiple times".

Franke told her children that they were "evil and possessed" and needed to "repent".

Through his lawyer, Franke's ex-husband Kevin Franke asked prior to the hearing for the maximum sentence to be imposed and called the abuse suffered by his children "horrific and inhumane". — BBC

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