Celebrity Paris Hilton says she is now on a mission to reform the troubled teen industry.
Her first target: Provo Canyon School, the Utah facility she attended in the 1990s where she says she was physically and emotionally abused.
Hilton started a change.org petition this week demanding that the school be shut down. So far, it’s garnered more than 40,000 signatures as of 5 p.m. Wednesday.
Hilton, an heiress to the Hilton hotel fortune and a reality television star, recently released a documentary detailing her experiences and abuse she says she suffered at the Utah treatment center.
“I’m humbled that I can use my voice and platform to shine a spotlight on the troubled teen industry,” Hilton said in a Wednesday statement. “The documentary allowed the movement to gain a lot of momentum and I feel it is urgent we capitalize on that. I am working with survivors and advocacy organizations to educate communities, support survivors, and work to enact federal reform.”
Hilton’s parents sent their 17-year-old daughter there after she was getting in trouble for sneaking out to go to parties. It was the last in a series of facilities her parents sent her to, she recalled in her documentary, “This is Paris.”
“That was the worst of the worst,” Hilton said. “There’s no getting out of there. You’re sitting on a chair and staring at a wall all day long, getting yelled at or getting hit.”
Hilton recalled in the documentary that she felt the staff enjoyed hurting children or seeing them naked as they showered. She said she and others were often overmedicated.
“I didn’t know what they were giving me,” she said. “I would just feel so tired and numb. Some people in that place were just gone. The lights were on, but no one was home.”
The film also documents Hilton reuniting with several of her old classmates, which included them being photographed with a sign that reads “Provo Canyon School” and a number of long-term issues they say they endured as a result of how they were treated at the facility.
Universal Health Services, which has owned Provo Canyon School since 2000, has tried to distance itself from Hilton’s accusations, saying it didn’t own the school at the time she was there.
But people who were residents at Provo Canyon School in recent years have made similar accusations. There is a pattern of controversy and allegations of abuse that stretches from the 1980s to today at one of Utah’s largest youth residential treatment centers.
“Provo Canyon School has faced persistent allegations of abuse and mistreatment since its founding,” Hilton said. “It is time we demand accountability. Provo along with the countless other facilities aren’t going to be able to get away with this anymore. And if the entire industry doesn’t entirely restructure to provide their youth with safety and true support, Provo will just be the first domino to fall.”
Eight former students whose stays spanned decades told The Salt Lake Tribune about their experiences at three of the four campuses that have operated as Provo Canyon School.
They spoke of repeated physical restraints, and were often chemically sedated. Others spoke of being left in isolation rooms for days after getting in trouble for things like not getting out of bed or asking for an inhaler.
Provo Canyon School has remained operational for nearly 50 years — despite multiple lawsuits, a company bankruptcy, state threats to pull its license, and public accounts of abuse from young people who were sent there.