Who is Ruby Franke? What to know about the mommy vlogger accused of child abuse
Ruby Franke, a Utah YouTube star who has spent the last eight years dishing out parenting advice to millions of followers, was arrested Wednesday alongside her business partner, Jodi Hildebrandt, on suspicion of aggravated child abuse.
Police said Franke's malnourished son escaped out a window with his arms and legs covered in duct tape, fleeing to a neighbor's house seeking food and water.
For some of Franke's viewers, the news was no surprise. Her videos have long sparked criticism, controversy and claims that child abuse was unfolding, unabated, for digital viewers to enjoy.
Here's a rundown of the situation.
Who is Ruby Franke?
Franke is a 41-year-old Mormon mother of six from Ivins, Utah. Though active across several social media platform, she's best known for her once-popular YouTube channel, 8 Passengers.
In over 1,000 videos since the channel's launch in 2015, Franke documents the sometimes-intimate, sometimes-mundane daily details of family life, gaining nearly 2.3 million subscribers in the process.
Some of the most-watched videos show her children in their most vulnerable moments of suburban adolescence (learning to shave; trying on new clothes; facing reprimand).
Franke, arms outstretched, selfie-style, toggles between speaking to the children directly and making eye contact with the camera, narrating her rationale for parenting decisions as they unfold in real time. Some of her lessons contain spiritual undertone or light references to traditional values.
8 Passengers was removed from YouTube earlier this year. NPR couldn't find a publicly stated explanation for the move, but the takedown coincided with a noticeable uptick in criticism.
What is 8 Passengers and why was it so controversial?
Some of this criticism takes aim at the style of the content altogether, saying Franke is one of hundreds of content creators who force children, too young to consent, to trade their privacy for her financial gain.
It's a common refrain in today's influencer discourse. Earlier this month, Illinois became the first state to introduce a law mandating child influencers receive financial compensation for appearing in video content.
But other concerns over 8 Passengers focused specifically on Franke and her strict parenting techniques — claims she openly abused her children in front of millions of eager viewers.
In one video, posted in June 2020, Franke's then-15-year-old son said he'd slept on a beanbag chair for seven months after being banned from his shared bedroom for pranking his younger brother into believing he was being taken to Disneyland.
In an interview with Insider, Franke defended the decision to revoke her son's "bedroom privileges," but added that the beanbag comment had been taken out of context — the teen had been given a choice of sleeping on a blow-up or pull-out mattress but declined.
In another video, Franke says she refused to bring food to her then-6-year-old after the child had forgotten her lunch at home. She defended that move, too, saying it was necessary to teach her daughter personal responsibility and that she was fed immediately upon returning home.
Several other videos also show Franke threatening to take away meals as punishment.
There are also videos of Franke threatening to cut the head off her child's teddy bear, taking away the children's Christmas presents and sending her oldest boy to a behavioral camp where youth spend a minimum of 49 days in the wilderness with little gear.
Who is Jodi Hildebrandt and what is ConneXions?
Around the same time Franke stopped posting on 8 Passengers, she started appearing in another video series — ConneXions Classroom.
ConneXions bills itself as a mental health curriculum and counseling service structured around the principles of "impeccable honesty, rigorous personal responsibility and vulnerable humility."
The founder of the company, Jodi Hildebrandt, is a therapist who had her license suspended in 2012 after she disclosed a patient's "porn addiction" to his Mormon church leaders, The Salt Lake Tribune reported.
Franke and Hildebrandt appeared together regularly in videos and podcasts, including as recently as Monday. The two share values-based lessons on topics like blame, control and denial, with notes on family life infused throughout.
ConneXions' YouTube page was removed on Friday, following the news of the women's arrests. It's unclear if the video had been removed by the company or by YouTube.
Why were Franke and Hildebrandt arrested?
Around 10:50 a.m. on Wednesday, Franke's 12-year-old son climbed out of the window of Hildebrandt's house in the city of Ivins, according to an arrest affidavit signed by a Santa-Clara Ivins Public Safety officer.
He ran to a neighbor's home, asking for food and water. The neighbor, noticing duct tape around the child's ankles and wrists, called the police.
The responding officer said the child appeared severely malnourished and had sustained "deep lacerations" from being tied up with a rope.
The boy was transported to a local hospital while police searched Hildebrandt's home. There, they discovered another child, Franke's 10-year-old daughter, who appeared to be malnourished. She was also taken to the hospital.
In total, four of Franke's children were removed into the care of the Department of Child and Family Services, according to a press release from the Santa-Clara Ivins Public Safety Department.
Franke and Hildebrandt were arrested on suspicion of two felony counts each of aggravated child abuse, though charges have not yet been filed through the local court system.
Franke declined to speak with officers and requested an attorney, the affidavit said. The name of attorneys for either woman had not been publicly listed on court documents as of Friday.
A lawyer reportedly representing Franke's husband did not respond to an NPR voicemail seeking comment by the time of publication. A call to the number listed for ConneXions went unreturned.
A judge granted a detective's request that Franke be held without bail. Both women were still in custody as of Friday morning, according to the Washington County Sheriff's Office.
What is her family saying?
Shari Franke, the family's eldest daughter at age 20, has not replied to NPR's request for comment, but has been posting about her mother's arrest on her Instagram stories.
On Wednesday night, she shared a photo of officers at her childhood home and the caption "finally," according to several news outlets that caught the initial story, which disappears by design after 24 hours.
Shari later shared that she and her family were "so glad justice is being served" and had been "trying to tell the police and CPS for years about this." She also called for help collecting links to "questionable or concerning" videos featuring her mother and shared a link to a Google doc filled with public contributions.
Ruby Franke's three sisters, who are also family influencers, said in a joint post that the arrest "needed to happen."
"For the last 3 years we have kept quiet on the subject of our sister Ruby Franke for the sake of her children. Behind the public scene we have done everything we could to try and make sure the kids were safe," they wrote.
"The kids are now safe, which is the number one priority."
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