Content warning: the following story contains sensitive material regarding physical and verbal abuse.
Ian Rylett, the 55-year-old British co-founder of the mega-popular YouTube empire SevenAwesomeKids, was arrested in Florida in August, BuzzFeed News reported today. All of the company’s channels, however, are still up: SevenAwesomeKids, SevenSuperGirls, SevenPerfectAngels, SevenFabulousTeens, SevenCoolTweens, SevenFuntasticGirls, and SevenTwinklingTweens. It appears that none of the channels have posted a new video in the month since Rylett’s arrest. Together, the channels have more than 17 million subscribers and have amassed billions of views; each features a rotating cast of more than 20 girls, all between eight and 18 years old. Details of the charges, per BuzzFeed:
According to an arrest warrant obtained by BuzzFeed News, detectives were called to Rylett’s Orange County hotel room on the morning of Aug. 16, after Rylett allegedly verbally abused the girl, demanding she undress in front of him against her will and “practice wrapping her breasts down, to make them appear smaller for the video shoot.” According to the report, the girl, who is under 16, claims Rylett touched her breasts and fondled her while repeatedly making her undress, eventually attempting to forcefully remove her underwear. The arrest report also alleges that Rylett “threatened to use the contract to fine her if she did not comply with his demand.” Rylett pleaded not guilty to the charges at an arraignment last month. He has surrendered his passport and will stand trial later this year. Rylett’s lawyer did not respond to requests for comment.
“We take safety on YouTube very seriously,” reads a statement from YouTube in the BuzzFeed report that was reiterated to The Verge via a spokesperson. “We work closely with leading child safety organizations and others in our industry to protect young people. When we’re made aware of serious allegations of this nature we take action, which may include suspending monetization, or, upon conclusion of an investigation, terminating channels.”
YouTube also confirms to The Verge that the SevenAwesomeKids channels were demonetized shortly after Rylett’s arrest, though it has reportedly not contacted any of the performers following the incident.
What “demonetization” means in this context is tricky: When a channel is demonetized, its ads, which are typically paid for upfront by advertisers, are shuffled away from the flagged channel to another one with similar numbers of subscribers. In other words, the channel owner might not be getting paid, but YouTube, inevitably, is.
Rylett’s “creepy” behavior — which involved asking his performers to take swimsuit photos, making jokes about “wardrobe malfunctions,” and manipulating their incomes — made the young women and girls working for him feel uncomfortable. “Then some of us started to get the feeling we were being groomed for some darker audience,” one former performer told BuzzFeed.
YouTube has come under fire over the last few years for its lack of sufficient policies around the children’s content it hosts. Last year, YouTube provoked a public outcry for hosting videos that depicted dark, twisted content aimed specifically at children; in the days following several damning reports, dozens of these videos, representing billions of views, were deleted.
The SevenAwesomeKids channels feature similarly disturbing content, which was pointed out last year by the comedian Daniel Tosh on his Comedy Central show, Tosh.0. “I’ll level with you — I may have stumbled across something dark here,” he said at the beginning of the segment. “Who’s watching all of these videos of little girls in bathing suits and taped up to beds?”
This isn’t the first time the creators of children’s videos like this have been accused of criminal behavior. Last year, the YouTube channel DaddyOFive, which at the time had 750,000 subscribers, was terminated after users revolted at the contents of their videos, which depicted “pranks” that two parents would play on their five children that appeared to be child abuse. After the outcry, two of the children involved in the video were taken from the DaddyOFive household and placed with their birth mother; the parents eventually pleaded guilty to charges of child neglect and were sentenced to five years of probation. Less than a month after the parents were sentenced, they had rebranded with a new channel, FamilyOFive, and continued posting prank videos with their children. YouTube eventually terminated that channel as well, but only after their videos had racked up nearly 200 million views.
In cases like Rylett’s, YouTube terminates channels when allegations are substantiated by a guilty plea or a conviction. Rylett will stand trial later this year.