Mon. Apr 15th, 2024

CONTENT WARNING: This article mentions child abuse, child pornography, pedophilia and sexual assault.

On Aug. 30, 2023, Ruby Franke’s youngest son, Russell, escaped his bondage and the house that he and his sister had been confined in. The emaciated 12-year-old boy courageously walked over to his neighbors’ house to ask for help. The child anxiously pleaded, “I was wondering if you could do two favors for me…Take me to the nearest police station.” It baffles me that a child can know that what is going on is wrong But that the adults inflicting the abuse are so unaware of it. The extent of the abuse that the children suffered was so atrocious, I don’t even feel comfortable reciting it.  

The Franke children, like so many recent child abuse cases, had been homeschooled, so there was no opportunity for anyone to notice signs of abuse or contact the authorities. This is a pattern that I believe can be solved by mandatory welfare checks on homeschooling families. This is not to villainize every parent, because not every parent abuses their child, but instead to take extra precautions for children that may be suffering in silence.   

This case has resurfaced some alarming memories for me and a lot of people who used to watch the ‘8 Passengers’ YouTube channel, which Ruby Franke started in 2015. I was in middle school, the same age as Franke’s eldest daughter, but I vividly remember feeling as if some of her punishments for the children were severe, like the time the school had called asking Franke to drop off lunch for her six year old daughter, to which she refused, stating that it was the child’s responsibility to remember to pack and carry her lunch, so now the six year old can starve to learn her lesson. That unsettling video was only one of the many that led me to stop watching the family vlogs. That, and the fact that most of the time, the children felt uncomfortable about being filmed and would ask Franke to stop, to which she refused. 

And they aren’t the only ones. With the rise of social media, many parents have realized the profit they can gain from filming their children. This has led to many concerns from viewers that it is an invasion of the child’s privacy to be constantly filmed and watched by strangers. And the other concern I was recently made aware of, specifically from TikTok mothers, is that some of the videos of children with thousands of ‘saves’ are most likely from pedophiles. Many content creators have spoken up about how the videos that get the most attention are those with their  children in them, and that has led them to taking down said content to protect their kids. And they were right — the pattern followed.

Take TikTok content creator Jacquelyn, the center of the “Wren’s Law” movement. Jacquelyn’s only content is of her daughter in compromising situations — trying new things, eating weird food and wearing age-concerning outfits. The mother was made aware countless times by commenters that some of her child’s videos have been uploaded to child pornography sites, and that the content she posts of her child are viewed by pedophiles. Jacquelyn’s ignorance and refusal to take head on the warnings have infuriated people who have even started a petition called “Justice for Wren,” stating there needs to be a “Wren’s Law” to protect children whose parents are exploiting them online. 

The worst part about the day and age we live in is that social media has become a double edged sword. A platform that had started off for dancing and lip syncing has now turned into a way for child offenders to have easy access to children. Child sex offenders don’t have to hide anymore. They comment inappropriately under videos of children, make their own page full of babies in bikinis on Reddit and go on Pinterest and dedicate boards to pictures of kids in bathtubs. And the most that the public can do is report those pages and warn the childrens’ parents.

Jacquelyn is not the only mother exploiting her child. Parents across every platform have been warned that their children are being exploited by child sex offenders. Sure, you can argue that these are not the parents’ intentions when uploading videos of their children to the public domain, but the truth is, it’s every parent’s job to protect their child, and if that means not posting their children on public platforms for the wrong viewers to get access to, then that’s what should be done. Failing to do so means that they’re actively exploiting their children for pedophiles. The bottom line is, kids are NOT content — nor are they a source of income. This goes for child actors as well. Watching the documentary “Quiet on Set” (2024) and hearing about how so many of those children I grew up watching on TV had been abused and exploited for years was heartbreaking. From their parents leaving them in the hands of child abusers to being forced to film perverted scenes, to having every cent they worked for being stolen by their parents, those children lost their childhoods so we could have one. I believe that documentary was only the beginning of the darkness that has been consuming child stars. So much has yet to be uncovered, and there are so many more stories we will likely be hearing about, not just from child stars, but from the many children who grew up with their parents shoving a camera in their faces 24/7. We need law reformation; we must protect our children, even from their own parents. Because as Ruby Franke made clear, sometimes the monster is your own mom. I can only wish those survivors courage and strength, because Brian Peck, a former Nickelodeon executive, receiving a 16 month sentence made me realize that “justice for all” is not guaranteed.

 


Perpetual Kahindo is a third-year Political Science major. PK973548@wcupa.edu

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