Paris Hilton urges Biden, lawmakers to adopt bill of rights for youth in congregate care facilities

Paris Hilton urges Biden, lawmakers to adopt bill of rights for youth in congregate care facilities

10/20/2021

Paris Hilton participates in a press conference to discuss protecting ‘Children placed in congregate care facilities’

Paris Hilton held a press conference on Wednesday in Washington, D.C., urging lawmakers to establish a bill of rights for children placed in congregate care facilities.

The 40-year-old hotel heiress and reality TV personality, donned in a black pantsuit, was joined at Capitol Hill by Rep. Ro Khanna, Senator Jeff Merkley, Rep. DeLauro, Rep. Adam Schiff, other institutional abuse survivors and child welfare advocates to continue her vital message to Congress.

“For 20 years I couldn’t sleep at night as memories of physical violence, feeling of loneliness, the loss of peers rushed through my mind when I shut my eyes. This was not just insomnia; it was trauma,” Hilton declared.

She recalled her “introduction” to congregate care facilities began in her teenage years, when she was woken up by “two large men entering my bedroom, asking me if I wanted to go the easy way or the hard way.”

Paris Hilton speaks as she joins congressional lawmakers during a press conference on upcoming legislation to establish a bill of rights to protect children placed in congregate care facilities, at the US Capitol in Washington, DC, on October, 20, 2021.
(MANDEL NGAN/AFP via Getty Images)

“Thinking I was being kidnapped I screamed for my parents and as I was being physically dragged out of my house I saw them crying in the hallway. They didn’t come to my rescue that night,” Hilton said. “My parents were promised that tough love would fix me and that sending me across the country was the only way.”

Hilton went on to share that she was sent to four facilities in a two-year period. “My experience at each one haunts me to this day. I was strangled, slapped across the face, locked 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 scrap marks and smeared in blood, and so much more.”

Hilton said she was forced to stay indoors for 11 months straight with no sunlight and no fresh air. 

“These were considered privileges. Children were regularly hit, thrown into walls and even sexually abused at Provo [Canyon School in Utah]. I wish I could tell you that what I experienced and witnessed was unique and even rare, sadly it’s not. Every day in America children in congregate care settings are being physically, emotionally and sexually abused. Children are even dying at the hands of those responsible for their care.”

‘My experience at each one haunts me to this day. I was strangled, slapped across the face, locked in the shower by male staff, called vulgar names, forced to take medication without a diagnosis…and so much more,’ Hilton shared.
(MANDEL NGAN/AFP via Getty Images)

Hilton also discussed the death of 16-year-old Cornelius Frederick, whose passing at a Michigan facility was deemed a homicide. He was restrained for over 12 minutes, dying from suffocation because he threw a sandwich in the cafeteria, she said.

“Federal law and funding are desperately needed to bring real reform and true accountability to congregate care in America,” Hilton continued. “The Accountability for Congregate Care Act will formally be introduced in both houses of Congress. This bill creates an urgently needed bill of rights to ensure that every child placed into congregate-care facilities is provided a safe and humane environment. This bill of rights provides protections that I wasn’t afforded like access to education, to the outdoors, freedom from abusive treatment and even the basic right to speak and move freely. If I had these rights and could have exercised them I would have been saved from over 20 years of trauma and severe PTSD.

“Ensuring children are safe from institutional abuse isn’t a Republican or Democratic issue. It’s a basic human rights issue that requires immediate attention. On behalf of hundreds of thousands of institutional abuse survivors across America, I urge Congress and President Biden to make this bill the law of the land and give young people in congregate care the rights and protections that they so desperately need and deserve.”

Prior to Hilton’s comments, Khanna was the first to take the podium and commended the star for opening his eyes to congregate care abuse.

“What is going on in these congregate-care facilities? Solitary confinement of young people, abuse, verbal abuse, physical abuse, psychological manipulation, depriving people of basic food, depriving them of decency. This is happening in our country to our young people and if it can happen to Paris Hilton and her family, think about all those people who can’t be here today: communities of color, gender and sexually diverse communities, working-class communities, who are shuttled into these facilities, told a bunch lies about them and then are scarred for life.”

Paris Hilton wipes her eyes after speaking at a committee hearing at the Utah State Capitol, Monday, Feb. 8, 2021, in Salt Lake City. Hilton has been speaking out about abuse she says she suffered at a boarding school in Utah in the 1990s and she testified in front of state lawmakers weighing new regulations for the industry.
(AP Photo/Rick Bowmer)

“I didn’t know about any of this, really, until I talked to Paris,” Khanna continued. “I was clueless about how much abuse is taking place. This is not a messaging bill. This is a bill we need to pass. We need to pass it in the House and the Senate in a bipartisan way to have basic rights for America’s kids who get sent to these facilities so that they are treated with dignity and respect – and we will pass this.”

Merkley also took the podium, adding: “It boils down to this: Congregate care without oversight becomes congregate abuse. That’s what we discover all too often when we look into the system.”

Merkley thanked Hilton for sharing her story and said she will help “improve the lives of so many children.” “This is a tremendous reform and one we must get passed and we will get passed,” he said.

Two youth members also were present in Washington to share their stories. One 12-year-old girl said she’s been in foster care for six years and has endured harm such as being put in a headlock and suffering bruises from restraints. 

Paris Hilton, center, leads a protest Friday, Oct. 9, 2020, in Provo, Utah. 
(Rick Bowmer/AP)

“It only caused more trauma and gave me more reasons not to trust,” the young girl said.

Another survivor who works at Breaking Code Silence, a survivor-led nonprofit, said she attended Wednesday’s press conference “not just as myself but on behalf of thousands of individuals who have lived experiences of these facilities.”

“I asked [survivors] what they want Congress, President Biden and the rest of the world to know. This is what they told me to tell you: These experiences of abuse are not just reserved to a few bad actors. It is systemic…It affects every state and every community. We need accountability and transparency now. We need solutions…These survivors want you to know that lives are being destroyed right now.”

Hilton has become an advocate for youths who are placed in congregate-care facilities by either their parents or their state’s government after previously coming forward with her own story of abuse and trauma as a misbehaving teen in the documentary, “This Is Paris.” 

Paris Hilton opened up about her experience in a 2020 documentary ‘This is Paris.’ 
((Photo by Willy Sanjuan/Invision/AP, File)(Photo by Willy Sanjuan/Invision/AP, File))

Minutes before the conference was held, Hilton took to her Instagram Story to share footage from the Capitol. 

“Good morning D.C., ready for a very busy and important day,” she told her millions of followers.

She was joined by her mother, Kathy Hilton, in another Instagram Story. 

“Here we are in Washington D.C. getting ready for my press conference at Capitol Hill. I will see you guys there,” Hilton added.

Hilton’s press conference follows an op-ed she penned for The Washington Post on Tuesday, in which the former “Simple Life” star called on the federal government to take action against a system that she said is still running rampant. 

“When I was 16 years old, I was awakened one night by two men with handcuffs. They asked if I wanted to go ‘the easy way or the hard way’ before carrying me from my home as I screamed for help,” she began. “I had no idea why or where I was being taken against my will. I soon learned I was being sent to hell.”

Hilton revealed she was subjected to a “parent-approved kidnapping” and noted that it is a practice that countless other teens undergo in the United States. The former reality TV-star-turned businesswoman shared that she believes her wealthy parents “fell for the misleading marketing of the ‘troubled teen industry’” while they were searching for solutions to her “rebellious behavior.”

In 2020, Fox News spoke with six former students and one ex-staffer of the Provo Canyon School in Utah, who shared their own stories and corroborated the star’s claims of either suffering or witnessing physical and mental abuse, including forced medications, beatings, solitary confinement and bullying by staff.

Three of whom attended school at the same time as Hilton, said the socialite’s claims are not only valid, they are giving a voice to the silent community of PCS survivors. Thanks to Hilton, many have begun breaking their own silence. Some even have dubbed the hotel heiress a “hero.”

The school has repeatedly declined to address the allegations made in Hilton’s documentary, telling Fox News previously in a statement, “Originally opened in 1971, 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.”

When reached by Fox News on Wednesday, PCS shared the same statement along with an additional one at length posted to their website. In it, the school says it “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.”

“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,” the statement continues.

“Paris coming out about this could make really large changes in the industry as a whole. She’s a hero,” Lee Goldman, who attended PCS from 2002-2004, told us in 2020, adding that Hilton’s documentary could force actionable change in the behavioral health industry.

Another former student called her experience “a living nightmare.” She claims she was once knocked unconscious after falling off her bed while sleeping. She said the school didn’t notify her mother until “hours later.”

“I suffered a concussion and they didn’t do a CT scan,” this student emotionally alleged. “They told my mom it wasn’t severe as it was. I’ve got a stutter now because of it that happens in high stress.”

Stefanie Tapley of Texas, attended PCS at the same time as Hilton. She also backed up the star’s claims to Fox News last year, alleging that she was mocked by staff constantly.

At the time, Hilton’s fellow PCS alums said they were stunned to see the heiress, who has amassed 16.4 million followers on Instagram alone, use the hashtag #BreakingCodeSilence. Breaking Code Silence is a movement created to help other survivors tell their stories and to raise awareness about institutional child abuse around the nation, not just at PCS.

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