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Authorities found a “panic room” in the desert home of parenting bloggers Jodi Hildebrandt and Ruby Franke in Utah, leading to charges of aggravated child abuse against both women. The abuse was found to be motivated by religious extremism, with the women believing it necessary to teach the children how to repent for imagined sins and to cast out evil spirits. The abuse was discovered when one of Franke’s malnourished sons escaped from Hildebrandt’s home and sought help from a neighbor, leading to a police investigation.

Police reports indicated that the children endured physical labor, food restriction, binding of hands and feet, emotional harm, and being told that they were evil and needed to be punished. The discovery of a hidden room equipped with a bed, cabinets, refrigerator, sink, and cleaning supplies highlighted the extent of the abuse. Franke’s children were found in distress, malnourished, and in need of rescue from the two bloggers who had been in charge of their care.

The investigation uncovered disturbing details of the abuse, including the children being forced to endure hardships, withholding of food, and emotional manipulation. Franke and Hildebrandt portrayed a stark view of children as inherently evil and in need of harsh punishment to correct their behavior. The children were found in various locations after the initial discovery, with efforts made to ensure their safety and well-being away from the bloggers’ influence.

Franke’s husband, Kevin Franke, revealed details of their strained relationship and separation, citing issues with addiction, including pornography. He expressed shock and disbelief at the revelations of abuse, stating that he had been unaware of the extent of what was happening with his children. Franco had previously faced criticism over controversial videos on her blog, including withholding Christmas presents from her children as punishment and discussing punitive measures for perceived bad behavior.

Videos and documents released painted a dark picture of the abusive environment created by the two bloggers, who presented themselves as parenting experts offering advice to followers on raising children. Their extreme views on discipline and punishment were evident in their content, which included discussions on the necessity of pain in discipline and labeling children as evil. The arrest and subsequent investigation exposed the toxic environment created by Franke and Hildebrandt in their misguided attempts to instill discipline and control in the children under their care.

The case of Franke and Hildebrandt highlights the dangers of unchecked influence and extremist beliefs in parenting and caregiving. The abuse inflicted on Franke’s children under the guise of religious teachings and discipline underscored the need for vigilant monitoring of individuals in positions of authority over vulnerable individuals. The discovery of the panic room and the appalling conditions in which the children were found serve as a stark reminder of the importance of ensuring the safety and well-being of children in all circumstances.

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