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Paris Hilton
Photography Kevin Ostajewski

Paris Hilton’s powerful testimony helps ban youth abuse in Utah facilities

Now she wants to take the legislation nationwide

A bill prohibiting youth treatment centres from certain punishments of students which Paris Hilton testified on behalf of has passed in Utah. 

Bill SB 127 bans harsh treatment of children such as denying food or water, spanking, hitting, seclusion, strip-searches, and other punishments “intended to frighten or humiliate.” It also bans the use of chemical restraint and ensures youth have unmonitored communication with their families.

Hilton was one of three people to testify in support of the reform bill last month, during which she shared the mental, emotional, and physical abuse that she experienced as a teenager at Provo Canyon School in Utah.

“My name is Paris Hilton, I am an institutional abuse survivor and I speak today on behalf of the hundreds of thousands of children currently in residential care facilities across the United States,” she said at the time. “For the past 20 years, I have 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 that this haunting nightmare was just a dream, ​but it is not​.”

In response to the passing of the bill, Hilton shared her excitement on Instagram saying she was “so proud” of the victory. “So much of the abuse and trauma I experienced at Provo would now be illegal under this new law,” she wrote. “When I was at Provo Canyon School, I dreamed of making a difference. The teenage version of me would be so incredibly proud to know I accomplished my goal of protecting youth who are experiencing abuse in the name of treatment. Survivors, this is a BIG step towards systemic change!”

Hilton also indicated in a statement that this was just the start of her involvement in politics. “This is only the beginning – I plan to approach the federal arena with a bill that will protect youth across the nation in these types of facilities,” she wrote. 

One of the lawmakers who supported the bill, Senator Mike McKell issued his own statement saying that “reform in the troubled teen industry is long overdue.”

“I'm ecstatic S.B. 127 passed the Utah Legislature,” he said. “It sets a path forward for other states and the country to increase transparency and bring an end to abusive practices in youth residential treatment centers. I want to express my appreciation and applaud Paris Hilton's bravery for using her platform and voice to bring attention to this critical issue. It empowered many others to share their personal stories, resulting in much-needed positive, impacting changes to this industry.”

Hilton first spoke up about the abuse she endured at Provo Canyon boarding school last September in her documentary This Is Paris. The reality star alleged that during her time at the ‘troubled teen’ school, staff beat her, kept her in solitary confinement, watched her shower, and forced her to take unidentified pills. Since then, Hilton has been advocating to shut down the school and other institutions whose staff members allegedly abuse minors. In October, she and hundreds of other survivors – from both Provo Canyon and similar schools – staged a protest outside the Utah institution calling for reform of the so-called ‘troubled teen industry.’ 

Hilton was sent to the school at the age of 17 for 11 months after her parents reportedly became tired of her sneaking out to party in New York. Former Provo students Paris Jackson and Kat Von D have also spoken out about the abuse they suffered. In a video shared on Instagram, Von D described her time at the school as “the most traumatic six months of my life.” The tattoo artist alleges that staff strip-searched her, shaved her head, and told her she had contracted HIV from tattooing – a lie which aimed to stop her practicing the art.

In a statement issued in the wake of the allegations, Provo Canyon said it does “not condone or promote any form of abuse”. It added: “Any and all alleged/suspected abuse is reported immediately to our state regulatory authorities, law enforcement, and child protective services. We are committed to providing high-quality care to youth with special, and often complex, emotional, behavioral, and psychiatric needs.” The school also said it was “concerned that the current media coverage may increase the stigma around seeking help for behavioral health concerns”.

Watch Paris Hilton’s documentary, This is Paris, on YouTube below.