PROVO — More women are coming forward, alleging abuse at a Provo youth treatment center in the early 2000s after Paris Hilton shared her story of abuse when she attended the school in the '90s.
“I arrived in October 2002 (to May 2004) against my will,” said Lee Goldman, whose parents sent her to Provo Canyon School “because I was having some rebellious behavior and they thought that the school would help.”
Years have passed, but Goldman’s memory of her time at Provo Canyon School remains.
“When I got to the school I was taken upstairs to a room with a bunch of staff and I was told to take off all of my clothes,” she said. “I faced a lot of abuse. I faced days where I would just sit in their observation rooms which are unheated rooms with a drain in the middle of them.”
Goldman’s most difficult memory was what she said was known as “shower checks” for girls who were told they didn’t know how to clean themselves. She remembers having to shower while a staff member watched to make sure she washed herself to their satisfaction.
Today, Provo Canyon School describes itself as “an intensive, psychiatric residential treatment center for youth between the ages of 8 and 18 that have special, and often complex, mental health and emotional needs. We offer innovative, evidence-based therapeutic interventions, academic instruction and life-skills training tailored to the needs of each of our students. Leadership and staff are highly committed to providing effective treatment, compassionate care and a nurturing environment for the students and families we serve.”
It’s a stark contrast from the experience Jen Robison said she had. Robison arrived in 2003 and, like Goldman, said she was stripped of clothes and then shaved and given a number.
“You’re essentially stripped of your identity from the get-go and made to live in this environment where you’re constantly afraid of punishment,” she said.
Robison still remembers the punishment she said she received when she didn’t want to get out of bed one morning.
“I think I was just feeling crushed and I didn’t want to get up. And so two staff dragged me down off the top bunk and they dragged me down the hallway and they left me in isolation,” she said. “And that’s when I knew that everything was going to get a lot worse.”
Goldman and Robison shared their stories publicly days after Paris Hilton’s story of abuse from her time at the school in the '90s jumped into the spotlight.
“It was supposed to be a school, but (classes) were not the focus at all. From the moment I woke up until I went to bed, it was all day screaming in my face, yelling at me, continuous torture,” Hilton said in her new documentary, “This is Paris.”
Provo Canyon School officials won’t comment on Hilton’s allegations because they said the ownership of the school changed in 2000. But Robison and Goldman each said they didn’t arrive until after the new ownership was in place.
In a statement, the school said, “We do not condone or promote any form of abuse. Any and all alleged/suspected abuse is reported to our state regulatory authorities, law enforcement and Child Protective Services immediately as required. We are committed to providing high-quality care to youth with special, and often complex, emotional, behavioral and psychiatric needs.”
“I have so many positive memories of the bonds I formed with girls who were there,” Robison said.
Both she and Goldman said their time at the school changed them — but not in the way it was meant to.
“It’s something that’s affected me to this day. It makes you feel like you’re nothing. It makes you feel like you’re really low,” Goldman said. “There’s nothing that I can really gain from exposing what happened to me other than just to feel better and to hopefully protect other children from going through this.”
“It was tragic for me and my family ultimately that I went in very much wanting to be okay and learn how to deal with what happened in my youth and I left so much worse,” Robison said.