Socialite and reality TV star Paris Hilton on Monday described to Utah lawmakers the “daily” abuse she says she endured at a facility for troubled youth in the 1990s, as she urged legislators to pass a bill that would protect teens today from going through what she experienced.
“I was verbally, mentally and physically abused on a daily basis. I was cut off from the outside world and stripped of all of my human rights,” Hilton told the Utah Senate Judiciary, Law Enforcement, and Criminal Justice Committee of her interactions with employees at the Provo Canyon School, the residential center where she spent nearly a year as a teenager.
“I was forced to consume medication that made me feel numb and exhausted. I didn’t breathe fresh air or see the sunlight for 11 months. There was zero privacy. Every time I would use the bathroom or take a shower, it was monitored,” she said. “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.”
Hilton’s emotional testimony at the legislative hearing was one of three heard by the Utah committee in support of a bill sponsored by Republican state Sen. Michael McKell that calls for more regulation of institutions that are part of the so-called troubled-teen industry.
“I cannot go to sleep at night knowing that there are children that are enduring the same abuse that I and so many others went through. Neither should you. I am proof that money doesn’t protect against abuse,” the hotel heiress said.
McKell’s bill was unanimously endorsed by the committee meeting and now must go to the full state Senate for consideration there before eventually heading to the governor’s desk for his approval.
If signed into law, the bill would require treatment facilities to document instances of physical restraints and involuntary confinement and ban chemical sedation and mechanical restraints, NBC affiliate KSL-TV in Salt Lake City reported.
Hilton, 39, said it was “terrifying” to speak about something so personal, but said she felt compelled to speak out for children who are still in these facilities.
“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,” she said, referring to the night she was taken to Provo Canyon. “I wish I could tell you that this haunting nightmare was just a dream, but it is not.”
“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, and maybe if I stop their nightmares, it will help me stop mine,” she said.
One of her worst memories, she told legislators, was of staff at Provo Canyon putting her in solitary confinement.
“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.
Hilton was sent by her parents to several other residential facilities before Provo Canyon as she rebelled under their strict parenting as a teenager. She first discussed her time at the institutions in her YouTube documentary, “This Is Paris,” which premiered in September.
Since then, the entrepreneur has become an activist for teens who are still in such facilities. While she was at Provo Canyon, she said, she could not report the abuse, because all communication with her family and the outside world was monitored.
“I have been silent for far too long,” she said Monday.
Provo Canyon did not immediately reply to multiple requests for comment from NBC News in response to Hilton’s testimony.
However, the school has released prior statements in response to her allegations, noting that because the school was sold to its current ownership in 2000 — after Hilton’s time there — “we therefore cannot comment on the operations or patient experience prior to that time.”
“What we can say is that the school provides a structured environment teaching life-skills, providing behavioral health therapy, and continuing education for youth who come to us with pre-existing and complex emotional, behavioral and psychiatric needs,” Provo Canyon said in part in a statement released in October, when Hilton organized a gathering of fellow survivors of the troubled-teen industry and called for Provo Canyon to be shut down.
“While we acknowledge there are individuals over the many years who believe they were not helped by the program, we are heartened by the many stories former residents share about how their stay was a pivot point in improving — and in many cases, saving — their lives.”
In a statement, McKell said he was grateful to survivors such as Hilton who “use their platform and voice to bring attention to an industry that desperately needs reform. As a state, we will take the necessary steps to increase transparency and safety to prevent further abuse.”
The former star of “The Simple Life” has said she plans to take her fight for more regulations over the troubled-teen industry nationwide.
“I tell my story not so that anyone feels bad for me,” Hilton said Monday, “but to shine a light on the reality of what happened then, and is still happening now.”