Paris Hilton says she was sexually assaulted as a teenager by staff members at a boarding school and “behavioral-health center” in Utah. In a new interview with the New York Times about systemic abuses at facilities claiming to help children with mental-health and behavioral issues — referred to as the “troubled teen industry” — Hilton, who forcibly attended Provo Canyon School for 11 months in 1997 when she was 17, alleged that male staff members took her and other female students into a room “very late at night” and digitally penetrated them under the guise of performing cervical exams. “This wasn’t even a doctor,” Hilton told the Times. “It was with a couple different staff members where they would lay us on the table and put their fingers inside of us. I don’t even know what they were doing, but it was definitely not a doctor and it was really scary.” Hilton said she blocked out memories of the alleged abuse for “many years” but that they’re “coming back all the time now,” adding, “Looking back as an adult, that was definitely sexual abuse.”
Hilton expounded on her account on Twitter, where she wrote that she was “sleep-deprived and heavily medicated” during the exams and “didn’t understand what was happening” at the time. “I was forced to lie down on a padded table, spread my legs & submit … I cried while they held me down,” wrote Hilton, who said staff members told her to “shut up” and “be quiet” when she protested and threatened her when she struggled. Hilton has been a vocal advocate for survivors of the troubled-teen industry since opening up about her experiences in the autobiographical documentary This Is Paris in 2020, in which she revealed that her parents arranged to have her essentially kidnapped and sent to Provo to curtail her behavior. “I soon learned I was being sent to hell,” Hilton wrote later in an op-ed for the Washington Post, where she detailed being berated, surveilled, and put into solitary confinement by staff members.
Though the troubled-teen industry receives billions in annual funding, the Times reports that it offers inadequate medical care to patients and frequently subjects them to assault, sedation, physical restraint, and confinement. Facilities are traditionally run with little to no federal oversight; an estimated 86 children have reportedly died at them from 2000 to 2015. In recent years, Hilton has lobbied Congress to push for tighter regulations and increase funding for government watchdogs in the space. While there’s been some progress — in 2021, Utah passed legislation imposing regulations on the restraint and seclusion of children — the industry has shown little willingness to take accountability for its wrongdoings: In 2020, the Justice Department announced that Universal Health Services, the behavioral-health conglomerate that took over Provo in 2000, paid $117 million to settle allegations and lawsuits related to sexual assault but, per the Times, has continued to deny the allegations. It has not yet commented on Hilton’s latest allegations, previously stating it “cannot comment” on any Provo operations prior to 2000.
While Hilton, who is currently pushing for the Accountability for Congregate Care Act to institute a “bill of rights” for children at reform facilities, has been outspoken in the past about the physical and emotional abuses she’s endured at Provo, Tuesday’s interview marks the first time she spoke about sexual assault. “This was a recurring experience not only for me but for other #survivors,” she wrote on Twitter. “I was violated & I am crying as I type this because no one, especially a child, should be sexually abused. My childhood was stolen from me and it kills me this is still happening to other innocent children.”