On Monday, Paris Hilton told lawmakers in Utah about abuse she suffered in several treatment centers for teenagers during her youth. She encouraged them to pass legislation to regulate the programs.
Now 39, Hilton spent time in three facilities. One of which, Provo Canyon School, Hilton says, was the source of verbal, mental, and physical abuse nearly every day when she was sixteen years old.
“Although Provo Canyon School marketed itself as a premier treatment center, it was as if hell itself was on Earth. I cried myself to sleep every single night, praying I would wake up from this nightmare,” Hilton testified.
Provo Canyon school is still open. It has faced accusations of physical and sexual abuse, as well as accusations of drugging clients and removing access to family members.
Hilton says she was also abused at two previous “troubled teen” schools. At one, she says, she was strangled by a staff member.
Hilton first spoke out about the abuse in her documentary This is Paris. In October, she led a protest demanding the school close.
Hilton’s testimony also illustrates that the abuse inflicted continues to traumatize her. She states:
“For the past 20 years, I’ve had a recurring nightmare where I’m kidnapped in the middle of the night by two strangers, strip-searched, and locked in a facility. I wish I could tell you this haunting nightmare was just a dream, but it is not.
“When I was 16, two transporters woke me up in the middle of the night with handcuffs. They 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.”
Hilton continued to illustrate the abuse at Provo Canyon School; she said she “didn’t breathe fresh air or see the sunlight for 11 months” and was “forced to consume medication that made me feel numb and exhausted”. She was also forced into solitary confinement without cause.
“One day in isolation felt like a week. 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.
She went further, stating that the staff were “evil and sadistic and seemed to enjoy their power in being able to abuse children”. Hilton stated that children were subject to beatings, strangulation, and sexual abuse.
Her testimony continued, “there was zero privacy — every time I would use the bathroom or take a shower, it was monitored. At 16 years old, as a child, I felt their piercing eyes staring at my naked body. I was just a kid and felt violated every single day.”
She told the lawmakers that she was unable to reach out to family for help because her access to that family was censored.
In a statement to BuzzFeed News, Tim Marshall, who is a spokesperson for Universal Health Services and an associate administrator of Provo Canyon School, said that the school supports the Utah Bill.
He explained that the school “eliminated the use of seclusion or isolation some time ago” and does not use certain restraints or drugs as discipline.
Marshall said, “We are supportive of the additional transparency the legislation requires. As always, our singular goal is patient safety. As a matter of policy and procedure, we have always operated within the requirements of our reporting obligations.”
However, some staff was retained after the sale of the school, including one employee who Hilton said “would brag to other students that she was the one who broke Paris Hilton”. That employee was not let go until October, after Hilton’s documentary aired.
Universal Health Services, meanwhile, is a large psychiatric hospital chain that has been subject to a BuzzFeed News investigation. That investigation revealed many allegations of patient mistreatment and fraud.
State Senator Mike McKell, who supported the legislation, cheered Hilton for her testimony after the bill passed.
“I am grateful for survivors like Paris Hilton who are using their platform and voice to bring attention to an industry that desperately needs reform,” McKell tweeted. “As a state, we will take the necessary steps to increase transparency and safety to prevent further abuse.”
Hilton acknowledged that speaking publicly about her abuse has been difficult but she did it to ignite change and help children who are still in schools like Provo Canyon. She says:
“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 right now. And maybe if I stop their nightmares, it will stop mine too.”