Paris Hilton tells Scripps News how she's turning her trauma into action

Hilton said the abuse she experienced at Provo Canyon School has prompted her advocacy work in protecting kids who are sent to youth treatment facilities.
Paris Hilton talks to Scripps News about Provo Canyon School.
Posted at 10:52 PM, Apr 24, 2024

Paris Hilton's young adult life was once portrayed across mixed media as that of a bubbly, rebellious socialite. But behind the headlines and paparazzi photos, Hilton was holding onto traumatic memories that she ended up keeping hidden for more than 20 years.

Only recently did she reveal how the pain she suffered at 16 years old has affected her life, and now she's dedicating her life to making sure no other children have to share the same story.

Hilton sat down with Scripps News to discuss how that history led her here, working at the state and federal levels to increase protections for "troubled" kids sent to youth treatment facilities.

That's where her trauma began, at a facility in Utah named Provo Canyon School. Hilton told Scripps News her parents, worried about her defiant behavior, believed they were sending her to an "emotional growth boarding school." But she says "deceptive marketing" hid the true nature of what the facility really did to its students.

"When I got there, it was just complete psychological torture from the moment that I walked in," Hilton told Scripps News. "It was just 11 months of hell, just so terrifying, so traumatizing. I've had severe nightmares about it ever since, and it's something that will affect me for the rest of my life."

The new mom of two said she was "constantly being watched in the shower by male staff," strip-searched in front of them, and watched Provo staff physically and verbally abuse kids "every single day."

In her documentary "This Is Paris," in which she first revealed this story, and in interviews thereafter, Hilton said students were often put into solitary confinement, strangled, sexually assaulted under the guise of doctor's appointments, forced to take medication, beaten and subjected to multiple other forms of abuse.

Hilton told Scripps News she didn't speak of the "torture" to friends, family or anyone else due to the pain she worried would resurface. But she said when she was filming her documentary, its director asked about her nightmares, to which Hilton explained her history and said, "I don't want this as part of my story, so please don't put it in the doc."

The 43-year-old said the next day, the director came with loads of research to highlight that Hilton was not alone and that many other people are either currently experiencing the abuse or are hiding their history, too.

"I just knew that I needed to tell my story and let people know what's happening behind closed doors because none of these people have had a voice and nobody's believed them," Hilton said.

Since the release of her 2020 documentary, Hilton has held rallies to protest abuse at treatment facilities, held press conferences to advocate for legislation and testified on behalf of measures that would increase oversight and documentation at the centers.

In 2021, she testified before the Utah State Legislature for a bill that eventually passed, setting new standards for the state's youth centers for the first time in 15 years.

Last month, she testified before California state lawmakers for a bill that would require more transparency from "troubled youth" facilities. It also passed.

And although she's already helped pass bills in eight states, Hilton told Scripps News she won't be finished until any center or staff member exhibiting similar traumatizing behaviors is held accountable.

"If you are abusing children, I'll find out. I'll find you. I'm going to shine a huge spotlight on you, and you will be held accountable," she said. "I hope that is a message to everyone out there that I am very serious about this, and I will do anything in my power to protect children."