'Basic human rights': Paris Hilton urges Biden administration to reform 'troubled teen industry'

Jenna Ryu

Paris Hilton is reflecting on her own traumatic experiences in order to advocate for reform for youth in congregate care.

The entrepreneur and socialite, 40, has previously spoken about the verbal, emotional and physical abuse she says she endured at Provo Canyon School, a Utah boarding school for troubled teens.  Now, she is urging for federal-level reform in a deeply personal Washington Post op-ed published Monday.

In the essay, Hilton recalled her experience after being sent to Provo by her parents, who "fell for the misleading marketing of the 'troubled teen industry.'"

"I was awakened one night by two men with handcuffs," she reflected. "They asked if I wanted to go 'the easy way or the hard way' before carrying me from my home as I screamed for help. I had no idea why or where I was being taken against my will. I soon learned I was being sent to hell."

Hilton went Provo at 17 years old and stayed for 11 months. While there, she said she endured psychological and physical abuse from staff members, including being slapped, choked and deprived of sleep. The Provo institution is now under new ownership and the administration has said it can’t comment on anything that came before the change, including Hilton’s time there. A statement on the school website says the previous owners sold the school in 2000.

Hilton first opened up about her experience at a Utah boarding school as a teenager in her documentary “This is Paris."

'We're all survivors':Paris Hilton alleges widespread abuse at her former school in new documentary

"I was called vulgar names and forced to take medication without a diagnosis. At one Utah facility, I was locked in solitary confinement in a room where the walls were covered in scratch marks and blood stains," she wrote.

Despite her suffering, she said her parents were unaware of what happened because youths were prohibited from communicating with the outside world — a tactic that intentionally drove "wedges between parents and children by telling parents not to believe their kids."

Citing the 2008 Government Accountability Office report, which found "ineffective management and operating practices," Hilton then argued that there is still "no federal reporting requirements governing congregate-care facilities" and called on Congress and the Biden administration to take action by providing funding and requiring states to "prove that children's basic rights are being protected."

"Congress and President Biden need to enact a basic federal 'bill of rights' for youths in congregate care," she wrote. "Every child placed in these facilities should have a right to a safe, humane environment, free from threats and practices of solitary confinement, and physical or chemical restraint at the whim of staff. Had such rights existed and been enforced, I and countless other survivors could have been spared the abuse and trauma that have haunted us into adulthood."

She added: "It's a basic human rights issue that requires immediate action."

More:Paris Hilton testifies about abuse she says she suffered at a Utah boarding school

Hilton first spoke out against Provo Canyon School in her documentary, "This is Paris," which premiered on her YouTube channel in September 2020.

“I’ve never discussed this publicly with anyone, so it’s going to be a shock to people, because no one knows," Hilton said in the documentary. "I’ve worked so hard to build this brand and it’s been all about this perfect, happy life. And that story was never part of this brand." 

In February, she testified at a state Senate committee hearing at the Utah Capitol in favor of the bill that would require more government oversight of youth residential treatment centers and require them to document when they use restraints. The measure passed unanimously following emotional testimony from Hilton and several other survivors.

Paris Hilton, who has spoken out about the abuses she said she experienced at Provo Canyon School, center, was an advocate for the new law along with Utah Gov. Spencer Cox Cox and Lt. Gov. Deidre Henderson. Activists and supporters gathered in the Capitol rotunda in Salt Lake City, Tuesday, April 6, 2021, for a ceremonial bill signing of SB127 that will bring more oversight to the state's so-called troubled-teen industry.

“Talking about something so personal was and is still terrifying,” Hilton told the committee at the time. “But I can not go to sleep at night knowing that there are children that are experiencing the same abuse that I and so many others went through, and neither should you.”

Since the documentary was released, other celebrities have spoken out about their experiences at the school or others like it, including Michael Jackson’s daughter Paris Jackson and tattoo artist Kat Von D.

Contributing: Hannah Yasharoff, USA TODAY and The Associated Press