A federal judge sentenced YouTube singer Austin Jones to 10 years in prison for persuading underage girls as young as 14 to create and send him pornographic videos. He was sentenced by Judge John Z. Lee of the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Illinois, following a three-hour long hearing that included a series of tearful testimonies from his victims and their families, according to The Chicago Sun-Times.
“Production and receipt of child pornography are extraordinarily serious offenses that threaten the safety of our children and communities,” Assistant U.S. Attorney Katherine Neff Walsh said in a sentencing memorandum. “Jones’ actions took something from his victims and their families that they will never be able to get back.”
The singer was first arrested in Chicago on two counts of child pornography in 2017 and has been awaiting his sentencing since. Prior to his arrest, Jones, now 26, had admitted to soliciting twerking videos from minors — but he insisted he “never asked them to do anything more” in a YouTube video that’s since been taken down. When arrested and confronted with allegations of sexual coercion and possession of child porn, though, Jones confessed to using his fame to manipulate underage girls into sending him lewd videos mimicking sex acts and “proving” themselves as fans, The Chicago Sun-Times reported.
Jones, who found success — and around 500,000 subscribers — performing a cappella covers on YouTube, primarily had a fanbase of teenage girls. He told some of his subscribers that, if they sent him videos, he could help them with their modeling careers and Instagram follower counts.
The Sun-Times reported that at least three of these teenage girls tried to hurt themselves after sending him explicit content. “There is one thing, one feeling, one moment no one should ever feel,” one father reportedly said at the sentencing. “The feeling when you wake up after not sleeping for days, when you’re not sure if you’re going to find your child dead.”
He added a more personal message to Jones, who is a survivor of childhood sexual assault: “You of all people should know the tremendous harm that you were causing these girls that you targeted and preyed upon when you were doing it.”