Torturing Kids For Giggles And Profit: The DaddyOFive Videos And The Cultural Scourge Of Child Exploitation

The story on “The Conversation”: is headlined, “When exploiting kid for cash goes wrong on YouTube….” and there we have the problem in black and white.

Exploiting kids is wrong to begin with and in all respects; it can’t “go wrong.” The culture doesn’t just get it. This ethics alarm has been sounding at ear-breaking pitch for a long time. Too many adults and media opinion-makers have not just tolerated cruel and abusive uses of children by the very people who are obligated to protect them—their own parents– but encouraged it. In such a child-focused culture,where “Think of the children!” is an all-purpose emotion-bomb employed with regularity to obliterate  rational policy arguments, this ugly realm of ethics blindness still thrives.

Ethics Alarms has done its best to cast a light on the cultural scourge from the blog’s beginnings. There were “the Biking Vogels.”  There was Jon and Kate Plus Eight. But what chance do I have trying to explain that all child exploitation is unethical whether it is done for cash or not, when a late night TV star, Jimmy Kimmel, has been gleaning fans, applause ratings and YouTube hits by encouraging parents to “prank” their own children to almost no criticism at all? I even started a Facebook page to stop Kimmel from doing this, as he does every Christmas, Halloween, and whenever his child-hating writers have a sadistic brainstorm.

Maybe the exposure, shaming and punishment of Heather and Mike Martin, of Ijamsville, Maryland will finally have some impact, but at this point I am dubious. Yesterday these horrible people appeared on ABC’s Good Morning America to weep, lie, grovel and try to make the public feel sorry for them, as their torture videos threaten to cost them custody of some or all of their children.  Anyone who does feel sorry for the Martins is a fool, and perhaps one of the complicit millions of internet viewers who rewarded the couple for using their children as props, dupes and victims. When you make money by torturing your children to attract YouTube hits, that is signature significance. You are a vile human being, with your values and ethics rotting somewhere in your brain like a dead rat in the attic. The Martins are indefensibly ethics-free human beings, though just two of many. How much can the culture condemn them, when an even worse human being is paid millions by ABC—the hypocrisy of the network is staggering—to encourage the same conduct they are now being, finally, attacked for?

The YouTube video that finally served as a tipping point was the one where the Martins poured  ink on the bedroom floor of one of their five young children. The Washington Post describes it:

Heather Martin, a.k.a. “MommyOFive,” is screaming. “Get your f—— a — up here!” she yells at Cody, her young son. Mike Martin — DaddyOFive to his family YouTube channel’s 750,000 subscribers — follows along behind with the camera as Cody runs upstairs. Soon, he is yelling, too: “What the hell is that?” There is ink all over the floor of Cody’s room. The boy begins to cry. “I didn’t do that,” he says, his face turning red. “I swear to God I didn’t do that.” For three minutes, the parents scream and swear at Cody and his brother Alex, accusing them of spilling the ink. Suddenly, MommyOFive reveals a small bottle in her hand. She smiles and laughs. The ink was trick ink, she says, it will disappear from the floor. “You just got owned!” DaddyOFive says, pointing the camera in the faces of his children, who appear to be elementary school-aged. “It’s just a prank, bruh!” As the Martin parents laugh, their children remain sitting on the bed, faces still red from crying.

HAHAHAHAHAHA!!! This is hilarious!

With over 760,000 subscribers,  DaddyOFive earned between$200,000-350,000 each year from YouTube advertising revenue. The ink prank wasn’t the worst of the videos either, not at all. In addition to the emotional abuse being inflicted on the Martin kids, there was often physical abuse. Some videos showed them being pushed into furniture or walls by their father, or being struck by siblings. Here is a sampling of the videos, as they were promoted on DaddyOFive:

Nice. Although these have all been removed by the Martins or by YouTube for violations of their policies—which YouTube apparently only enforces vigorously when sufficient bad publicity is stirred up—they have been archived here.

YouTube, of course, is also accountable for DaddyOFive. The social media site profits from viral videos. It would presumably pull a snuff film from circulation, but felt that watching parents abuse their children was just good clean fun and lucrative entertainment. Finally Philip DeFranco, a well-known YouTube star himself, decided to focus public attention on DaddyOFive.  [Two alert Ethics Alarms readers tried to focus my attention on it weeks ago, but I missed it, in part because I thought it was just a single video rather than an entire child-abuse series, and assumed that it was redundant of the Kimmel posts. I’m sorry, everybody.]  “The more I dove into this channel’s history, the more concerned I became,” DeFranco told his viewers as he introduced the first of three videos exposing  DaddyOFive last week. Finally, significant public and news media outrage was generated to bring DaddyOFive down, and perhaps even rescue the children.

Viewers of the videos reported the Martins to Child Protective Services and law enforcement officials in Maryland, where the couple lives. A spokeswoman for Baltimore County police said that the department been “made aware of the videos and are currently checking into the situation to find out if any of the videos were created in Baltimore County.” Another investigation is underway in Frederick County, where the family now lives. An online petition asking Child Protective Services in Maryland to “reinvestigate” the Martins has more than 17,000 signatures. 

Now there are reports that the Martins have lost custody of two of their children to their biological mother.


When the Martins went on morning television to try to suppress the rising tide of public antipathy against them, they resorted to that old standby, the Pazuzu Excuse, named after the nasty demon who made Linda Blair say disgusting things and spit green glop in “The Exorcist.” “[What] you see on our YouTube channel is not a reflection of who we are. It’s not,” Heather Martin told the GMA hosts.

Of course it is. It is exactly who they are. Who else could it be? Oh…right…


DaddyOFive himself at least didn’t take that approach, saying,

 “I made some real bad judgment calls. And when I look back on it now … it makes me sick…I’ve lost my own self-respect. I am completely broken. I did all this for my kids. I thought I was doing the right thing…Because of my poor decisions, now my family’s suffering. I was able to do so many things for my family because of this YouTube channel. We were able to give the kids a college fund … [But] I ended up destroying my family thinking that I was helping my family.”

Oddly, none of this occurred to Mike while he was making the videos, torturing his children, and raking in the bucks. He and his wife shouldn’t be allowed to own a dog, cat or goldfish, never mind be trusted with children.  Parents calculating that it is worth exploiting and harming children to give them a college fund—if that is even true—sets new and revolting vistas in the ends justifies the means, competing with the infamous Vietnam War line, “We had to destroy the village in order to save it.

Neither Mike nor Heather possess the ethical values necessary to understand what’s wrong with what they did. When they deleted all of the content from DaddyOFive last week, they posted a new one: “Family Destroyed Over False Aquisations” —heh—in which they claimed to be victims of a social media mob, that the videos were just staged and “fake,  and their five children, Jake, 14, Ryan, 12, Emma, 11, Cody, 9, and Alex, 9, were willing and consenting  participants in their mistreatment.

Oops. That didn’t play well (children that young cannot give meaningful consent, for one thing), so there was a Take Two.  The Martins deleted the “Aquisitions” video, and posted a new  response, “DaddyOFive Founders Issue Public Apology,” produced by a crisis management and PR firm.

Let us not make the mistake of focusing all the attention on the Martins. They are monsters, but millions of Americans accepted them, watched them, and laughed at their cruelty.  Millions also continue to watch Jimmy Kimmel, who was considered pure enough for those paragons of virtue in Hollywood to make him the Academy Awards host this year.

Love Jimmy, love his child abuse.

Philadelphia columnist Brian Hickey, who had written some appropriately harsh columns about DaddyOFive, received this amazing letter from an Ethics Dunce and monster-enabler named Jason Vosberg :

Regarding the “DaddyOFive” incidents, if the State of Maryland’s Child Protective Services comes out and says there is no abuse, that means all the hate he has received is legally unfounded. Will you post an article apologizing for criticizing his freedom of speech and parenting choices?

I want to be clear, I am neither defending nor supporting his actions. I’m not being a smart ass or anything. I’m only asking because YouTube was the reason he was able give his family the better life they have now, and the unproven accusations have done irreversible damage to his reputation and cost him his “job.”

Is it right to publicize your own efforts to save the kids at the cost of him losing his largest source of revenue? It’s like a public, false child rape accusation;  it does irreversible damage to your reputation. Who is responsible for the damages to his reputation?

I fear that Jason is not as atypical of the American public as we might wish. Hickey responded that he will not apologize, but his answer was notably insufficient for leaving out the key words, “you insidious idiot.” It doesn’t matter what Child Protective Services says, or what the law concludes: we can see the videos. This is res ipsa loquitur. Jason doesn’t comprehend the distinction between law and ethics; he is completely without understanding of the First Amendment, which has no application to the case; and children who are being routinely tormented by their parents do not have a “better life” so matter how much money their abuse earns.

Being unable to correctly answer Jason’s jaw-dropping question, “Is it right to publicize your own efforts to save the kids at the cost of him losing his largest source of revenue?” would properly disqualify any job applicant or potential tenant. Gee, Jason, what if the  Martins were selling their kids as child sex toys? Then would it be right for for Brian Hickey to publicize his own efforts to save the kids at the cost of Martin losing his largest source of revenue?  You actually signed your name to this question? That alone suggest cognitive impairment. If you worked for me in any job requiring more trust than I require of a sanitation worker, I would fire you.

And no, it is not like a false rape accusation. It is not an accusation at all. The videos are self-accusing. Who is responsible for the damages to the reputation of parents who torture their kids, expose them to humiliation on the web, and profit from it? They are, you moron. Just them.

Tell you what: Stay away from me.

Our culture just has to stop tolerating child exploitation, which means that we have to stop allowing unethical parents, social media forums, TV networks and Jimmy Kimmel profit from it. This shouldn’t be so hard.


Pointers: Alexander Cheezem, Fred

25 thoughts on “Torturing Kids For Giggles And Profit: The DaddyOFive Videos And The Cultural Scourge Of Child Exploitation

  1. Culture rot directly related to demented sense of humor, who coulda thunk such a thing could possibly happen!

    America’s Funniest Home Videos very publicly started this particular kind of culture rot related to “humor” many years ago; I saw about 10 minutes of one of those shows and I’ve never turned it on again.

    I’ve spoken out against humor rot before, remember the conversation about the Darwin Awards.

    “Nothing shows a man’s character more than what he laughs at.”
    Johann Wolfgang von Goethe

  2. You know what’s better than having a college fund? Having parents who don’t terrorize and humiliate you on camera, then post it on the internet for all the world to see.

  3. I agree with your post and find even the description of these videos repulsive.

    My problem with these types of columns is that it is unclear where the line is drawn.

    As you say, children can’t give meaningful consent. So, wouldn’t any use of children be exploitative? Should all child acting or child performers be banned? Is it ipso facto exploitation? Or, is some exploitation okay, if the child does not suffer any long-term consequences from it (I have heard there are a couple of child actors who grew up to be well-adjusted adults)? There’s a rationalization for that.

    The Martin videos sound repulsive. Is Ozzie and Harriet different in kind (or just degree)?


      • So Jackie Evancho should never have gotten her recording contract? What about Olympic level gymnasts and figure skaters, who are often quite young (although 1996 was the last year for gymnasts under 16)?

        • And Mickey, Judy and Shirley would have never become stars. Too bad. It’s child abuse. For every one child performer or athlete who benefits, there are many who are harmed (and Judy was not exactly unscathed.)

        • That’s a good question and I’m not sure there’s an all-purpose answer to that. It’s difficult to imagine a very young child deciding that he wants to be an actor or she wants to be a mountain climber. Very often, the children are reflecting the interests of the parents or the parents (either consciously or sub-consciously) pass onto their children that a particular avocation or vocation is desirable. The children pick up that this will get the biggest approval from mom & dad.

          Or as Paul Petersen puts it:

          “Kid Actors aren’t “born.” They are “created.” When a child is born into a family that sets a large store in the affairs of the Entertainment Business, ooohs and ahhhs over celebrities, comments favorably on performances, dedicates a lot of time viewing movies and television shows, the child quickly learns that for approval it is a simple matter to like what your parents like. Given that parents (one or both) are often overboard in their attention to the performing arts you can see how the subtle (and not so subtle) molding of the child begins.

          Seeking approval is a key feature of being a child….along with fearing abandonment and the fear of falling…and children are very quick to pick up the “vibes.”

          Layered atop this fundamental reality is the very nature of the parent: (a) who sees in their child a true gift from God. Their child is the prettiest, most talented, smartest…etc.. The urge is to share that child with the world. “Oh, isn’t she cute?” “Come on, Tommy. Sing that commercial for Uncle Paul.” We’ve all heard it.

          And the molding continues. Early in the child’s development certain things begin to happen…like lessons, or that “casual inquiry” to the nearest agent. It is at this point that the nonsense begins, for if you ask a young performer they always say, “Oh, I’ve always wanted to be in Show Business.” The fact is they have been programmed.”

          Now, Petersen is talking about acting, but it can be applied to Olympic training, team sports, ballet dancing or riding bikes for months on end, too. Mom or Dad is generally the one that wants the kid to participate in the activity and it’s only a matter of training the child to associate participation with approval to get the results. The child doesn’t know what he really wants because he’s been conditioned from an early age to want what his parent wants.

          Yes, some child actors have transitioned into successful adults. But that doesn’t prove that spending one’s childhood performing professionally (and supporting the family financially) means a healthy family dynamic exists in these cases. In a lot of cases, it really doesn’t.

      • That… Would pretty seriously limit art. No play, TV show, or movie could depict a family, let alone stories focused on children.

        Of course, this was more or less the case with theater before the 19th century, but that’s a lot of meaningful art lost under a pretty draconian measure.

        • Too bad. I had this debate with Paul Petersen, a child actor himself and a watchdog on child performer abuse.

          Is the welfare of children more important than entertainment? Yes. I would give up Annie and Oliver! to stop child abuse.

          • What about The Andy Griffith Show? You’d lose a powerful tool for inspiring ethical behavior, an important depiction of a culture that’s too often mocked or worse in popular culture, and the valuable professional mentoring relationships (not to mention friendships) that helped Ron Howard grow as a performer… to protect some number of other children.

            • Andy’s mentally challenged 18 year-old son would have been able to make the same points, just like the Rifleman’s kid, played by some stunted actor. There are ways. Ron could have still been a director.

            • Emily asked, “What about The Andy Griffith Show?”

              Now that you brought up the Andy Griffith Show; a month or so ago I was watching the show on Netflix from the first episode on and I had to stop a few episodes into it to reevaluate the childish fondness I had for the show because of the sexism written into the show, of course most of it was to teach a lesson, but it sure dated the show because of those kind of attitudes. We’ve come a long way since then.

  4. I was recently at a fund raising dinner for the local Boys & Girls club. How cute it was when they sat two of the club kids at each table of the well-to-do and connected; under the guise of “practicing their table manners.” Then a select few (those with the most horrifying stories) were trotted up to the dais and over the microphone told their stories of woe while the attendees, enjoying a sit down plated meal and drinks, wrote out checks with looks of pity on their faces. The Boys & Girls Club. It was disgusting. Oh, and by the way, the parents of the children are never invited.

  5. I learned about all of this actually by watching Philip’s videos about it – I think there are four of them – and he refused to profit from talking about them at all. Just the clips he showed on his channel were horrible. Not only was it the “parents” but the older step-siblings to Cody and his sister as well, including one where the dad tells Alex to not hit girls, but he then proceeds (Alex) to smack his sister across the face while dad records it. In others, the oldest one was always hurting Cody in some way. It’s sad as a teenager he can’t see right from wrong, but maybe I’m expecting too much from the youth of today who have to post every second of their lives on some form of social media because if you aren’t getting likes your life must be meaningless (in a stray thought there’s an episode of Black Mirror that goes right along that line).

    From what I could gather, he had custody of Cody and the sister because “their mother has issues”. Pot meet kettle…. Whatever hers may have been, they apparently weren’t bad enough to not give the kids back to her.

    They even went as far as to actually blame Philip for all their problems now because he brought light to their channel. It’s hard to fathom how out of their 75K subscribers not one of them took a minute to think about it being wrong. Or, maybe that’s how Philip was made aware being someone who could reach a large audience. However it happened, I’m glad he exposed them for what they are.

    I personally think that Heather is the worst of them and is the one who gets everything going, though both are equally to blame. It didn’t seem to really be her kids getting the brunt of the “pranks” rather they were in on them as well. Cody seemed to be getting it mostly and his sister sometimes, being abused by the others. The older ones are hers and seem – from the clips I saw – to be as rude and obnoxious as her. It’s pretty obvious in the one about their Disney trip she’s in charge and Mike actually “seems” to be struggling with a conversation about Cody. His kids are better off away from her.

  6. Unfortunately the kids will probably wind up in foster homes or with relatives who probably knew about the videos. The parents should spend some time in the slammer, where child abusers don’t do so well. Good!!

  7. The weepy ads and politicking and fundraising should go as well. The protections should be improved across the board massively or the ban. If people learn the best from seeing ‘people like them’ removing ALL representations erases them from cultural dialogue. I don’t think a ban is good either, like some of the overkill laws.

    Now you could still do classic animation, while computer still runs toward fake and creepy. I have no objections to stronger protections, and make sure they run across ALL platforms including talk shows, YouTube, and reality TV. And make the penalties harsher and quicker.

  8. May I say a word in defence of sanitation workers here. They are required to be trustworthy, more trustworthy than many professions, for public health reasons.

    Yes, I know it was merely a figure of speech, so enough said.

    • Point taken, Sue. Although I don’t have to trust them to do anything but pick up what I put out. You know, I was trying to figure out who to use for that line. My lawn guys I trust to work outside with my door unlocked and me running errands. My business partner keeps the books and the calendar. Our auto mechanics we have to trust. Who don’t you have to trust?

      • Jack Marshall asked, “Who don’t you have to trust?”

        I’ll have a generous helping of trust with a healthy sprinkling of doubt in my fellow man.

        I make it a habit to lock my car doors everywhere I go without exception and I always keep the doors and windows to my home locked when I’m not there and when I’m asleep at home. Making these things common sense habits does two things; first, it means that I won’t likely forget to do it when it’s truly necessary; second, it removes all doubt that I’ve done all of the common sense based things I should to keep my possessions reasonably safe from crimes of opportunity.

        I refuse to be the foolish victim of a crime of opportunity simply because I didn’t lock the lock on the door that was specifically placed there for that very purpose. If everyone in the world was 100% trustworthy, there would be no need for locks; that’s not the world we live in. Reality exists, don’t be foolish.

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