Paris Hilton Testifies Before Congress on ‘Troubled Teen’ Facilities

In a congressional hearing on Wednesday, Paris Hilton recounted the physical and psychological abuse she said she suffered at group care facilities as a teenager.

Ms. Hilton, who was sent to a series of youth residential treatment facilities starting at age 16, calmly testified to being violently restrained, stripped naked and thrown into solitary confinement during her stays.

“These programs promised healing, growth and support, but instead did not allow me to speak, move freely or even look out a window for two years,” she said. “I was force-fed medications and sexually abused by the staff.”

Ms. Hilton, 43, the reality TV star and great-granddaughter of the Hilton Hotels founder Conrad Hilton, shared her disturbing account in support of a bipartisan effort to reauthorize a lapsed program that provides states with resources to prevent child abuse and neglect.

In her testimony before the House Ways and Means Committee, which has jurisdiction over several child welfare programs, Ms. Hilton denounced the residential facilities’ treatment of children in foster care as “criminal” and urged an investment in kinship care.

“I was so proud to be invited to testify about my lived experience and advocacy work in the Ways and Means Committee,” Ms. Hilton said in a statement to The New York Times through her publicist. “Over 50,000 foster youth are warehoused in residential treatment facilities every year, and I hope my testimony inspired the representatives to take a closer look at bolstering community-based resources to ensure we keep vulnerable kids out of facilities.”

Residential facilities for teenagers have faced increasing pressure in recent years after reports of deaths and abuse in these institutions.

Sarah Font, an associate professor of sociology and public policy at Pennsylvania State University who specializes in child abuse and neglect within foster care, said many child welfare systems struggle to get the funding and services needed to provide care to parents and children.

“In general, we want kids who can be safe and appropriately cared for with either a kinship family or a nonrelative foster family to be in those settings over residential care,” Dr. Font said.

“Kids may not disclose abuse in relative settings or in residential settings until they’re adults — or maybe never,” making research difficult, she added.

Ms. Hilton previously detailed the abuse she suffered in “troubled teen” facilities in a 2020 YouTube documentary; a memoir published last year; and a 2021 opinion article for The Washington Post, in which she wrote that she was “choked, slapped across the face, spied on while showering and deprived of sleep” at all four facilities she was sent to as a teenager.

One of the facilities, Provo Canyon School in Provo, Utah, declined to comment on Wednesday’s hearing but referred to its 2021 statement after Ms. Hilton’s abuse allegations. “Provo Canyon School was sold by its previous ownership in August 2000,” read the 2021 statement, which was updated this June. “We therefore cannot comment on the operations or student experience prior to that time.” The statement also asserted that the school’s “mental health treatment has evolved from a behaviors-based foundation to a personalized, trauma-informed approach.”

This week’s testimony was not the first time Ms. Hilton has waded into the political arena and used her celebrity status for activism. In 2021, she testified before the Utah Senate judiciary committee to call for more regulation of the youth residential care industry. Later that year, she worked with a group of congressional Democrats on a federal “bill of rights” for children in residential facilities that would ensure access to clean drinking water and phone calls with parents, among other proposals, according to NBC News. And this past April, Ms. Hilton backed a California bill that would require greater transparency about disciplinary methods from short-term residential facilities.

“I will not stop until America’s youth is safe,” Ms. Hilton said in her testimony on Wednesday, adding: “If you are a child in the system, hear my words: I see you. I believe you. I know what you’re going through, and I won’t give up on you.”

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