Paris Hilton says she was dragged, stripped and drugged in teen facilities

In harrowing testimony to U.S. Congress on Wednesday, Paris Hilton recounted abuses she faced while institutionalized as a teenager in “for-profit” youth behavioural treatment facilities.

Hilton told the House Ways and Means Committee she was “force-fed medications and sexually abused by staff” at four different residential institutions for troubled teens.

The media mogul appeared before the committee, a federal body in charge of developing fiscal legislation including taxes, tariffs, and social service programs, to advocate for better support for children in foster care.

Though Hilton was never in foster care, the 43-year-old said she “knows the harm” caused to young people placed in youth residential treatment facilities.“When I was 16 years old, I was ripped from my bed in the middle of the night and transported across state lines to the first of four youth residential treatment facilities,” she described. “These programs promised healing, growth and support but instead did not allow me to speak, move freely or even look out of a window for two years.”

Hilton said she was “violently restrained, dragged down hallways, stripped naked and thrown into solitary confinement” while in care.

She maintained that her parents were “completely deceived, lied to and manipulated by this for-profit industry about the inhumane treatment I was experiencing.”

Hilton said the children housed in youth facilities, whether in foster care or otherwise, are “innocent kids who have not committed crimes.”

She has long since been an advocate for better protections for institutionalized children and teens.In 2021, she wrote an opinion for the Washington Post in which she characterized her experience in youth facilities as “parent-approved kidnapping.”

Hilton said her parents, who were looking to manage her rebellious behaviour, were misled by the “troubled teen industry” — a billion-dollar business, including therapeutic boarding schools, military-style boot camps and behaviour modification programs.

The socialite recalled being unable to communicate with the outside world or tell her parents of the abuses she was experiencing while institutionalized. Hilton said she was “choked, slapped across the face, spied on while showering and deprived of sleep” while in treatment programs.

In recent years, advocates like Hilton have grown more vocal about the mistreatment of young people in institutionalized care, especially as news of children dying in American group homes and other facilities has made international headlines.

On Wednesday, Hilton called on Congress to pass the Stop Institutional Child Abuse act, which outlines better support, best practices and oversight for youth residential institutions.

In her 2020 documentary This is Paris, she discussed her time living at Provo Canyon School in Utah — an institution she has repeatedly called on to be closed. She’s said she was physically, sexually and psychologically abused while in care.

Provo Canyon School in 2021 responded to Hilton’s allegations of abuse and said they cannot comment because the organization is now under different management.“My parents had no idea. They just thought it was going to be a normal boarding school,” Hilton said of Provo Canyon School. “And when I got there, there was no therapy. We would just constantly be torn down, abused, screamed at, yelled at. No education whatsoever. I learned nothing there except trauma.”

The American troubled teen industry reportedly receives US$23 billion dollars of public funds annually to provide care to youth living in foster care or facilities specializing in treatment for minors with behavioural and psychological needs. There is an estimated 120,000 to 200,000 minors in juvenile residential programs every year in the U.S.

On Wednesday, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services’ inspector general’s office said many states are failing to monitor how frequently children in foster care facilities are abused.  The new report said more than a dozen states do not track when abuses, including sexual assault and improper physical restraint, occur at a single facility or across institutions owned by the same company.

During her congressional appearance, Hilton offered words of support to children and teens in foster care and rehabilitation programs.

“If you are a child in the system, hear my words: I see you. I believe you. I know what you’re going through, and I won’t give up on you,” she said. “You are important, your future is important, and you deserve every opportunity to be safe and supported.”

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