Paris Hilton tells how she was sexually abused at a youth center in Utah

Celebrity Paris Hilton shared Wednesday for the first time how she says she was sexually abused during a teenage treatment program in Utah in the 1990s.

Standing near the US Capitol surrounded by a crowd of other former treatment program residents, Hilton’s voice cracked with emotion as she said she wasn’t ready to say the words out loud.

She wrote them down, she said in an op-ed published in USA Today on Wednesday.

She wrote that upon arrival at Provo Canyon School, she was forced to strip, crouch and cough, and participate in a pelvic exam while male staff looked on. She said she was told this was routine to look for contraband.

Hilton wrote that these invasive exams continued throughout her stay, with staff dragging her out of her bed in the middle of the night and taking her to an “exam room.”

“Because of sleep deprivation and heavy medication, I didn’t understand what was happening,” she wrote. “I was forced to lie on a padded table, spread my legs and undergo pelvic exams. I remember crying while they held me.”

Hilton wrote that she asked why this was happening. She was told to be quiet or she would be sent to solitary confinement.

The celebrity said in Wednesday’s statement that as a teenager she didn’t understand what was going on. But as an adult, she realizes that these unnecessary investigations were sexual assault.

Hilton spoke Wednesday about what happened to her at Provo Canyon School to raise awareness of upcoming federal legislation aimed at bringing national oversight to the hundreds of youth treatment centers across the country.

She and other activists were in the nation’s capital this week to meet with members of Congress to demand their support for the Institutional Child Abuse Stop Bill.

Former residents of youth treatment centers have begun to speak more frequently about abuse they say they suffered during their time at facilities in Utah and other states. The coordinated activism was largely sparked in 2020 after Hilton released a documentary in which she said she was abused at Provo Canyon School two decades ago.

The federal law, publicly announced last fall, has yet to be introduced in Congress. It was expected to be released this week, but Unsilenced, a nonprofit organization of former teenage treatment residents who say they were abused, said in a social media post it was being held while it worked on it, bipartisan get support for the legislation.

“For too long,” Hilton said Wednesday, “our government has allowed this fraudulent industry to operate in the shadows without real transparency or accountability.”

Universal Health Services, which owns Provo Canyon School, has repeatedly declined to comment on what Hilton said happened to her, saying that she was running the facility during the time she said she was abused, did not possess. But people who have been residents of the Provo Canyon School in recent years have made similar allegations.

Utah is the epicenter of the country’s teen treatment industry, where about 20,000 children have been turned away since 2015. There are more than 100 programs in the state. They target parents and government agencies desperate for help for struggling teens.

State Senator Mike McKell, R-Spanish Fork, was in Washington, DC on Wednesday urging Congress to introduce federal oversight and more accountability.

He pointed to multiple cases in Utah of child abuse, including a death stemming from medical neglect at Maple Lake Academy earlier this year and an episode in 2018 when a girl at Havenwood Academy with a was zip-tied and placed in a horse trough.

McKell also pointed to a case where a girl in Oregon’s foster care system was sent to Provo Canyon School in 2019 and was physically restrained 30 times and chemically sedated 17 times over a three-month period.

“What do these three young women have in common?” he said at Wednesday’s press conference. “All three [were from] not in the country. All three [were] abused instead of treated in Utah.”

Oregon State Senator Sara Gelser Blouin said Wednesday that this girl’s experience shows the importance of federal oversight. Democratic lawmakers have worked to pass Oregon state laws to protect vulnerable children, she said, but that doesn’t matter if young Oregonians are sent to other states.

“Once they crossed the Oregon state line, they no longer had that protection,” she said. “And there was no one to account for them.”

Blouin and McKell passed policies that brought better oversight of youth treatment programs in their states.

Utah’s new law, in effect for a year, restricts the use of bondage, drugs and isolation rooms in youth treatment programs. It required entities to document every instance of employees using physical restraints and seclusion, and it ordered that they submit reports to state licensors. It also increased the required number of inspections that government regulators must conduct.

McKell has said that more consistent federal regulation is needed — especially when it comes to overseeing how young people get into these programs, often referred to as transportation.

Vans rented by parents often pull children from their beds, handcuff, hold, or blindfold them in order to transfer them to a car or plane to take them to a treatment center. Oregon is the only state to have restricted how such companies can bring children across state lines, though McKell passed legislation earlier this year requiring Utah transportation companies to register with the state and obtain insurance.

McKell said he views this as an issue that only federal regulations may possibly address. Because children move from state to state, it is difficult to regulate behavior outside of Utah before a young person arrives here for treatment.

“It’s not often that a Republican senator asks for federal participation,” he said Wednesday. “But this is an area where it’s badly needed.” Paris Hilton tells how she was sexually abused at a youth center in Utah

Joel McCord

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