Paris Hilton at Capitol Hill decries the troubled teen industry: "It’s a basic human rights issue"

The socialite testified about her harrowing experiences at four troubled teen facilities

Published October 20, 2021 9:36PM (EDT)

Paris Hilton (Getty/Mark Mainz)
Paris Hilton (Getty/Mark Mainz)

Socialite-turned-businesswoman Paris Hilton made a surprising trip to the Capitol on Wednesday, to speak at a press conference "not as Paris Hilton, but as a survivor," New York Post reports. Hilton joined a group of fellow survivors of childhood abuse at congregate care facilities – where parents or state governments often send "troubled teens" for rehabilitation – to push Congress and President Biden to enact a bill of rights for children held at these facilities. 

Hilton testified about her own experience being "sent to four facilities over a two-year period" as a teen by her parents, where she says 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 a proper education, thrown into solitary confinement in a room covered [in scrape] marks and smeared in blood, and so much more."

Hilton claimed that when she was initially taken into a congregate care facility, she thought she was being kidnapped. She says her parents had been convinced by the facility that "the tough love would fix [her]," and that "sending [her] across the country was the only way."

RELATED: "This is Paris" is a quixotic redemption story about what it means to be a human and a brand at once

Hilton's experience, which she also detailed in a Washington Post op ed published this week, isn't unlike other allegations of abuse at "troubled teen" facilities across the country. Between 2000 and 2015 alone, more than 80 children died in these facilities for troubled youth.

In one particularly high-profile case, rapper and social media personality Bhadbhabie spoke out about her experience with emotional and physical abuse at Turn-About Ranch shortly after her viral appearance on "Dr. Phil" in 2016. 

As Hilton noted in her testimony and op-ed, abuse at care facilities for youth teens is rampant and often hidden, because teens aren't believed about their experiences. Care facilities often tell parents and the public that they can't believe claims from young people at these facilities, and similarly tell the teens in their care that no one will believe them, Hilton said.

"Many congregate-care facilities drive wedges between parents and children by telling parents not to believe their kids when they report mistreatment and by telling children that their cries for help will never be believed," Hilton wrote in her op-ed. "Some children in these facilities have no loved ones to turn to."

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Hilton called the child abuse at these facilities "a basic human rights issue that requires immediate attention."

Hilton and other survivors at the press conference have partnered with House Reps. Ro Khanna, Rosa DeLauro, and Adam Schiff, and Sen. Jeff Merkley, to have the Accountability for Congregate Care Act introduced in Congress in the coming days. The bill would set federal standards for congregate care facilities that treat adolescents, establish a commission to determine best practices to protect children, and create a federal reporting system for abuse. 

Despite how a federal investigation of congregate care facilities in 2008 found "ineffective management and operating practices, in addition to untrained staff, contributed to the death and abuse of youth," no federal reporting requirements or other regulations that would be established by the Accountability for Congregate Care Act have been enacted for these facilities since.

Hilton may be better known as a hotel heiress and socialite than as an activist, but this visit to Capitol Hill wasn't her first, nor is this her first big push in support of regulating congregate care facilities. She's previously spoken about her experiences in the documentary "This is Paris," and testified earlier this year before the Utah state Senate about her experiences with abuse as a teen at Provo Canyon School in the state. However, Hilton has also faced criticism from survivors of abuse for her attacks on women who have accused former President Trump of sexual assault and misconduct in 2017, who she accused of seeking "attention and fame."

As she shines new light on her experiences surviving childhood abuse at troubled youth facilities, recent reporting and documentaries have also revisited abuse and mistreatment suffered by Britney Spears, another popular 2000s starlet. Stories like Hilton's and Spears' have sparked a reckoning with the ways media and society have previously treated young, famous women, and ignored or made light of their experiences.

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By Kylie Cheung

Kylie Cheung is a staff writer at Salon covering culture. She is also the author of "A Woman's Place," a collection of feminist essays. You can follow her work on Twitter @kylietcheung.

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Brief Capitol Congress Dr. Phil Paris Hilton Troubled Teen Industry