Since 2008, the YouTube franchise SevenAwesomeKids has been a go-to destination for tween and teen girls who want to watch video content starring their peers. The franchise’s seven channels have racked up 17 million subscribers, with the largest channel, SevenSuperGirls, alone bringing in roughly 9 million subscribers. SevenAwesomeKids has a roster of 20-plus real girls, ages eight to 18, who are paid to star in videos which are produced and directed by owner Ian Rylett, and updated daily. Or they were updated daily until mid-August, when the franchise suddenly stopped updating entirely — because Rylett, 55, had been arrested in Florida for “lewd and lascivious molestation” following an incident with one of the franchise’s young stars.
According to the arrest warrant obtained by Buzzfeed News, on August 16, Rylett allegedly verbally abused the victim, who is under the age of 16, demanded that she undress in front of him, and forced her to “practice wrapping her breasts down, to make them appear smaller for the video shoot.” The victim also alleged that Rylett touched her breasts, fondled her, and attempted to forcibly remove her underpants, threatening “to use the contract to fine her if she did not comply with his demand.”
At his arraignment in late August, according to Buzzfeed News, Rylett plead not guilty to the charges, surrendered his passport (he lives in the U.K.) and is expected to stand trial later this year.
Buzzfeed News interviewed numerous current and former SevenAwesomeKids performers; while none explicitly accused Rylett of sexual or verbal abuse, many described a pattern of “awkward” behavior, like pressuring them to wear small bathing suits on camera, cracking jokes about “wardrobe malfunctions” and forbidding them from talking to each other online unless he was present. Their parents, according to one former star, “had no power — [it was] all Ian.”
Last summer, the comedian Daniel Tosh did a segment about SevenAwesomeKids on his show Tosh.0, in which he suggested that some of the franchise’s 12 billion views came from creepy child predators and molesters. According to Buzzfeed News, the segment struck a cord with several former SevenAwesomeKids performers.
“Some of us started to get the feeling we were being groomed for some darker audience,” one former performer told Buzzfeed News “Things that didn’t feel weird at the time — like the themes, the leotards and the camera angles — started to feel strange. I started to get that feeling especially when you think that some of these girls are nine years old.”
The SevenAwesomeKids channels remain online and Buzzfeed News claims there is no evidence YouTube has made any effort to contact the franchise’s performers. YouTube said that the franchise’s channels were demonetized as soon as they learned of Rylett’s arrest and in a statement to Buzzfeed News, YouTube wrote: “We take safety on YouTube very seriously. 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 the channel.”
This “wait and see” approach, according to Buzzfeed News, reflects the platform’s lack of meaningful oversight.
“I was telling my mom two years ago that, if this was a real entertainment business — you know, with rules — I’d report him in an instant,” one performer told Buzzfeed News. “But I can’t because there’s nobody here to help me.”