The Utah Legislature has approved a bill backed by Paris Hilton to enact more regulations on the state’s ‘troubled teen’ centers.
Known as SB127, the bill was given final legislative approval by the Utah House on Tuesday night, just weeks after Hilton broke down in tears as she testified before lawmakers about abuse she allegedly suffered at Provo Canyon School in the 1990s.
The bill will now go to the desk of Gov. Spencer Cox for his consideration, where it’s expected to be signed into law.
‘I am so proud to share that SB127, the bill I testified on behalf of has passed the Utah legislature which means it will become law!’ Hilton celebrated in an Instagram post on Wednesday afternoon.
‘This bill protects thousands of youth in residential care from cruel punishments, strip-searches, and seclusion, bans the use of chemical restraint and peer restraint, ensures youth have unmonitored communication with their families, prohibits gender-based discrimination, creates suicide prevention policies, and more.’
The 40-year-old added that ‘so much of the abuse and trauma’ she claims to have experienced at Provo would ‘now be illegal under this new law.’
‘The teenage version of me would be so incredibly proud to know I accomplished my goal of protecting youth who are experiencing abuse in the name of treatment,’ she continued. ‘Survivors, this is a BIG step towards systemic change!’
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The Utah Legislature has approved a bill backed by Paris Hilton (pictured outside the Utah State Capitol building) to enact more regulations on the state’s ‘troubled teen’ centers
Known as SB127, the bill was given final legislative approve by the Utah House on Tuesday night, just weeks after Hilton broke down in tears as she recounted for lawmakers alleged abuse she suffered at Provo Canyon School in the 1990s
During her testimony on February 8, Hilton described how she experienced ‘unconstitutional, degrading and terrifying abuse’ at Provo Canyon, a psychiatric youth residential treatment center, as a teenager.
Hilton, the granddaughter of Hilton Hotel founder Conrad Hilton, was sent to the boarding school by her parents in an attempt to stop her from partying and teenage rebellion.
‘My name is Paris Hilton, I am an institutional abuse survivor and I speak today on behalf of the hundreds of thousands of children currently in residential care facilities across the United States,’ she said during the hearing.
‘For the past 20 years, I have had a recurring nightmare where I’m kidnapped in the middle of the night by two strangers, strip-searched, and locked in a facility. I wish I could tell you that this haunting nightmare was just a dream, but it is not.’
Hilton claims staff members at the $300,000 per-year school would beat her, force her to take unknown pills, watch her shower and send her to solitary confinement without clothes as punishment.
‘Without a diagnosis, I was forced to consume medication that made me feel numb and exhausted. I didn’t breathe fresh air or see the sunlight for 11 months. There was zero privacy — every time I would use the bathroom or take a shower — it was monitored,’ she alleged.
‘At 16 years old — as a child — I felt their piercing eyes staring at my naked body. I was just a kid and felt violated every single day.’
Hilton also said that children in Provo Canyon School were ‘restrained, thrown into walls, strangled, and sexually abused regularly.’
She said one staff member would ‘brag to other students that she was the one that broke Paris Hilton.’
For several months, Hilton has campaigned to enact more regulations on troubled teen residential treatment centers like Provo Canyon School, both in Utah and nationwide.
During her testimony on February 8 during a committee hearing, Hilton described how she experienced ‘unconstitutional, degrading and terrifying abuse’ at Provo Canyon, a psychiatric youth residential treatment center, as a teenager
Hilton, the granddaughter of Hilton Hotel founder Conrad Hilton, was sent to the boarding school by her parents in an attempt to stop her from partying and teenage rebellion
Hilton’s shocking testimony, and similar horrifying accounts made by a number of other backers of the bill, left some lawmakers incredulously asking how such ‘disgusting’ abuse of children had seemingly gone unchecked for decades.
‘This just adds some guardrails and some oversight that frankly has been lacking,’ the bill’s House sponsor Rep. Brady Brammer (R), said on the House floor, according to Deseret News.
Under the bill, youth treatment programs would be prohibited from imposing certain punishments on children, such as denying them food or water, spanking or hitting them, or any other punishment ‘intended to frighten or humiliate.’
SB127 would also put additional rules on when those programs could put a child into seclusion, conduct strip or body cavity searches, and use drugs or medication to deal with a child’s behavior.
Some House lawmakers had attempted to amend the bill, with Rep. Rex Shipp (R), seeking to change it to only allow ‘inducing pain unless it is necessary to protect health and safety,’ arguing children can occasionally be violent to staff.
Rep. Jeff Stenquist (R) also tried to extend the reporting requirement for use of restraints or solitary confinement from one business day to three business days, asserting his belief ‘seclusion is not always harmful’ and is ‘sometimes necessary’.
Both attempts to amend the bill failed.
The House voted 70-2 to approve the bill on Tuesday, after the Senate approved it in a unanimous vote on February 16.
Hilton also said that children in Provo Canyon School were ‘restrained, thrown into walls, strangled, and sexually abused regularly’
She said she was ‘forced to consume medication that made me feel numb and exhausted’ while at the school. She is shown in a protest photo by Jennifer Rovero
An outside view shows the Provo Canyon School, where Hilton said staff members would beat her and watch her shower
‘Reform to the trouble teen industry in Utah is long overdue,’ tweeted Sen. Mike McKell (R), the bill sponsor, after the vote Tuesday. ‘Thank you @ParisHilton for bringing attention to this critical issue.’
In a follow up statement, McKell added: ‘I’m ecstatic SB127 passed the Utah Legislature.
‘It sets a path forward for other states and the country to increase transparency and bring an end to abusive practices in youth residential treatment centers.
‘I want to express my appreciation and applaud Paris Hilton’s bravery for using her platform and voice to bring attention to this critical issue. It empowered many others to share their personal stories, resulting in much-needed positive, impacting changes to this industry.’
Hilton first spoke out about the abuse she allegedly suffered at Provo in the YouTube Originals documentary, This Is Paris.
During a rally in October last year, Hilton called for the school to be shut down indefinitely. She was joined by around 100 other survivors and supporters who said they had suffered similar abuse at schools across the country.
Provo Canyon School originally opened in 1971 and is now under new ownership.
The administration has previously said it can’t comment on anything that came before the ownership change, including Hilton’s time there.
‘While we acknowledge there are individuals over the many years who believe they were not helped by the program, we are heartened by the many stories former residents share about how their stay was a pivot point in improving – and in many cases, saving – their lives,’ a Provo spokesperson said, in part.
Hilton has posted photos to Instagram back in January showing her at the age of 18 after she allegedly suffered abuse at the Provo Canyon School
The school (inside seen above) has also said it does not use solitary confinement or forcible medication as a method for punishing children at its facility
The House voted 70-2 to approve the bill, after the Senate approved it on a unanimous vote February 16
A statement on the school website says the previous owners sold the school in 2000.
The school has also said it does not use solitary confinement or forcible medication as a method for punishing children at its facility.
Hilton hit back at the school’s claims, and dispute its assertions.
‘That’s just something that they’re saying,’ she said. ‘That’s just an excuse, because I have spoken to girls who have been pulled out of there as recently as three weeks ago.’
Since her documentary was released, other celebrities have spoken out about their experiences at the school or others like it, including Michael Jackson’s daughter Paris Jackson and tattoo artist Kat Von D.
Hilton says she’s now set her sites on approaching the ‘federal arena with a bill that will protect youth across the nation in these types of facilities.’
If you suspect child abuse, call the Childhelp National Child Abuse Hotline at 1-800-4-A-Child or 1-800-422-4453, or go to www.childhelp.org.
Provo Canyon School’s Full Statement:
Provo Canyon School was sold by its previous ownership in August 2000. We therefore cannot comment on the operations or patient experience prior to that time.
What we can say is that the school provides a structured environment teaching life-skills, providing behavioral health therapy, and continuing education for youth who come to us with pre-existing and complex emotional, behavioral and psychiatric needs. These youth have not been successful in typical home and school environments, and in many cases have a history of engaging in dangerous behaviors such as self-harming and/or attempting suicide, physical violence and/or aggression toward others, and use of illicit substances.
While we acknowledge there are individuals over the many years who believe they were not helped by the program, we are heartened by the many stories former residents share about how their stay was a pivot point in improving – and in many cases, saving – their lives