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Paris Hilton pushed Utah to reform 'troubled teen' centers. Now she's getting Congress to take up her cause

Hotel heiress and reality television star Paris Hilton lends her support for legislation to establish a bill of rights for children placed in congregate care facilities at the Capitol on Wednesday. Hilton says she was traumatized as a teenager when she was sent by her family to abusive care facilities.

Hotel heiress and reality television star Paris Hilton lends her support for legislation to establish a bill of rights for children placed in congregate care facilities at the Capitol on Wednesday. Hilton says she was traumatized as a teenager when she was sent by her family to abusive care facilities. (J. Scott Applewhite, Associated Press)



Estimated read time: 3-4 minutes

WASHINGTON — Paris Hilton took her efforts to reform residential treatment centers for troubled teens to the U.S. Capitol on Wednesday, after successfully lobbying the Utah Legislature to enact new rules for the industry earlier this year.

"Today, I come here not as Paris but as a survivor," she said.

The 40-year-old media personality and entrepreneur joined congressional Democrats and institutional abuse survivors at a news conference supporting legislation for a federal "bill of rights" for youth placed in what is known as congregate care.

"It's clear that state-by-state patchwork of limited, weak oversight and inconsistent licensing requirements is not working," Hilton said. "Federal law and funding are desperately needed to bring real reform and true accountability to congregate care in America."

Rep. Ro Khanna, D-Calif., said he is drafting legislation that would give children in youth facilities the right to call their parents, be free from restraints, and have access to clean drinking water and nutritional meals — none of which is currently ensured for thousands of children in those facilities nationwide, according to NBC.

"This is not a messaging bill," Khanna said.

As she did before Utah lawmakers in February, Hilton recounted the abuse she endured at four youth facilities over two years. She said she was strangled, slapped across the face, watched in the shower by male staff, called vulgar names, forced to take medication without a diagnosis, not given proper education and placed in solitary confinement.

"At Provo Canyon school in Utah, I was given clothes with a number on the tag. I was no longer me. I was only number 127," she said. "I was forced to stay indoors for 11 months straight, no sunlight, no fresh air."

Hilton said the multibillion-dollar troubled teen industry has misled parents, school districts, child welfare agencies and the juvenile justice system for decades. She said it lacks accountability and transparency.

The Republican-controlled Utah Legislature approved aptly numbered SB127 a month after Hilton gave emotional and graphic testimony to a Senate committee.

The new law provides more government oversight of Utah's youth residential treatment centers. It requires centers to document instances of physical restraints and involuntary confinement and submit monthly reports to the Utah Office of Licensing. It also bans chemical sedation and mechanical restraints unless authorized.

Hilton said the federal bill would provide protections she wasn't afforded, including access to education and to the outdoors, freedom from abusive treatment and the basic right to speak.

Paris Hilton shows some emotion as she testifies in the
Senate Judiciary, Law Enforcement and Criminal Justice Committee at
the Capitol in Salt Lake City for SB127 to better regulate centers
for troubled teens on Monday, Feb. 8, 2021.
Paris Hilton shows some emotion as she testifies in the Senate Judiciary, Law Enforcement and Criminal Justice Committee at the Capitol in Salt Lake City for SB127 to better regulate centers for troubled teens on Monday, Feb. 8, 2021. (Photo: Scott G Winterton, Deseret News)

"If I had these rights, I would have been saved 20 years of trauma," she said. "I am confident that this bill would create a world where all youth will have the support and the opportunity they need to heal, thrive and not just survive."

Hilton said memories of physical violence and feelings of loneliness kept her from sleeping at night for years. "This was not just insomnia. It was trauma," she said.

She recalled two "large men" dragging her out of the house at age 16 while her parents cried in the hallway.

Hotel heiress and reality television star Paris Hilton,
lends her celebrity to support legislation to establish a bill of
rights for children placed in congregate care facilities, at the
Capitol on Wednesday. Hilton says she was
traumatized as a teenager when she was sent by her family to
abusive care facilities.
Hotel heiress and reality television star Paris Hilton, lends her celebrity to support legislation to establish a bill of rights for children placed in congregate care facilities, at the Capitol on Wednesday. Hilton says she was traumatized as a teenager when she was sent by her family to abusive care facilities. (Photo: J. Scott Applewhite, Associated Press)

"They didn't come to my rescue that night. This was my introduction to the troubled teen industry," Hilton said. "My parents were promised that tough love would fix me and that sending me across the country was the only way."

The proposed Accountability for Congregate Care Act would create a commission in the Department of Justice to research and establish best practices for teen treatment centers and establish oversight and accountability. It would also provide grants to states to improve those facilities. Democratic Reps. Rosa DeLauro, of Connecticut, and Adam Schiff, of California, and Sen. Jeff Merkley, D-Ore., are co-sponsors of the legislation.

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Dennis Romboy

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