Paris Hilton on Monday testified before Utah lawmakers in favor of a bill that would regulate residential treatment centers for troubled teens and recalled her “traumatizing” experience at such a facility in the 1990s.
Hilton first disclosed her experience at Utah’s Provo Canyon School in her 2020 documentary “This is Paris.” This week, the hotel heiress and reality TV star testified before Utah’s Senate Judiciary, Law Enforcement and Criminal Justice Committee about her experience, according to local outlet Deseret News.
The socialite said her parents, Ricky and Kathy Hilton, had sent her to several boarding schools claiming to focus on behavioral and mental development after a wave of rebellious behavior in her teenage years. Provo Canyon reportedly was her third school.
“I am proof that money doesn’t protect against abuse,” Hilton told Utah lawmakers. “The state of Utah must monitor the companies taking exorbitant amounts of money from desperate people and taxpayers. People are profiting off of the abuse of children. This is not right. This is so wrong.”
Hilton recalled being woken up in the middle of the night when she was 16 by two transporters who “asked me if I wanted to go the easy way or the hard way.”
“They carried me out of my home as I screamed at the top of my lungs for my parents’ help. I was taken to the airport and separated from everything and everyone I knew and loved,” the 39-year-old said.
Hilton went on to detail what she described as “unconstitutional, degrading and terrifying” abuse from staff. She told lawmakers that she was forced to take medication that made her feel “numb and exhausted,” watched in the bathroom and thrown into “solitary confinement.”
“That small room covered in scratch marks and smeared blood with no bathroom is one of the most vivid and traumatizing memories I’ve ever experienced in my entire life,” Hilton said.
Children at Provo Canyon School were “restrained, thrown into walls, strangled, and sexually abused regularly,” she said, while describing staff as “evil and sadistic.”
“I was no longer Paris. I was only number 127,” she said.
Hilton said she couldn’t report the abuse because “all communication with my family was being monitored and censored.”
“I don’t know if my nightmares will ever go away, but I do know that there are hundreds of thousands of kids going through this, and maybe if I stop their nightmares it will help me stop mine.”— Utah Senate (@utahsenate) February 8, 2021
–@ParisHilton #utpol #utleg #utsen pic.twitter.com/C76gqxqYYI
The Provo Canyon School is now under new ownership and its administration told the Deseret News in August that it can’t comment on anything that happened before the change in 2000, including Hilton’s 11-month stay.
The new management said in a statement that Provo is “an intensive, psychiatric residential treatment center for youth between the ages of 8 and 18 that have special, and often complex, mental health and emotional needs.”
However, Hilton told Utah lawmakers that through “extensive research, we found out that while this facility was indeed sold after my time, the practices used and the staff employed remained and remain today the same.”
One employee, who allegedly bragged to other students about being “the one that broke Paris Hilton," was only let go in October after her documentary came out, she said.
“I tell my story not so that anyone feels bad for me,” Hilton said. “But to shine a light on the reality of what happened then, and is still happening now.”
The legislation would mandate that facilities document physical restraints and involuntary confinement and submit monthly reports to Utah’s Office of Licensing. It would also ban chemical sedation and unauthorized mechanical restraints.
After Hilton and other victims provided emotional testimony about their alleged abuse and mistreatment, members of the committee unanimously passed the measure. The bill now goes to the full Utah Senate for a vote.
State Sen. Mike McKell (R), who sponsored the bill, said that he expected the bill to be approved by the Utah House before being sent to Gov. Spencer Cox’s (R) desk.
I am grateful for survivors like @ParisHilton who are using their platform and voice to bring attention to an industry that desperately needs reform. As a state, we will take the necessary steps to increase transparency and safety to prevent further abuse. pic.twitter.com/iaZjjKGhgd— Mike McKell (@mikemckellutah) February 9, 2021
“There’s a lot of money in this industry. It’s a large, large industry,” McKell told The Salt Lake Tribune. “And I have become increasingly concerned that the appropriate amount of regulation has not caught up."
Utah is home to almost 100 youth residential treatment centers, a lucrative for-profit industry in a state known for wilderness therapy and the reputation of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.
Public records obtained by the outlet show that nearly 12,000 children have come through Utah to youth treatment centers in the past five years, many bouncing from one facility to another.