WASHINGTON — Nearly two years after first alleging she had experienced physical and emotional abuse as a teenager at a Utah boarding school, Paris Hilton is revealing new allegations of sexual abuse as the reality star and activist visits Washington, D.C., to push for federal laws that would protect children and teens in similar situations.
Hilton this week met with lawmakers and fellow survivors in the nation’s capital as they lobby for reform in what is known as the “troubled teen industry”: schools and organizations marketed as boarding schools that experts say lack safety and health regulation and the proper educational and mental health tools to help students and keep them safe.
“For too long, our government has allowed this deceptive industry to operate in the shadows without any real transparency or accountability,” Hilton said Wednesday at a press conference.
Speaking in front of the U.S. Capitol building and flanked by dozens of survivors holding posters, Hilton said through tears that she wasn’t ready to speak out loud about the sexual abuse she experienced, but directed others to read her USA TODAY op-ed, published Wednesday, in which she detailed for the first time recollections of being physically forced into complying with “sham” gynecological exams in the middle of the night.
“If we tried to protest or question anything, they said it was a bad dream,” Hilton wrote in the column. “They told us to stop making things up. But looking back on these experiences as an adult woman, I can recognize these exams for what they were: the sexual assault of children.”
Hilton has previously opened up about experiencing verbal, emotional and physical abuse during the 11 months she attended Provo Canyon School, a Utah boarding school for troubled teens. The trauma, Hilton said, left her with anxiety, trust issues and insomnia. When she first made the claims in her 2020 documentary, “This is Paris,” Provo Canyon distanced itself from these claims with a statement noting the school came under new management in 2000, after Hilton attended in the mid- to late-’90s.
But many who attended Provo Canyon and other schools like it have shared similar stories of abuse, before and since Hilton spoke out.
“Abuse at these facilities takes many forms,” Hilton said Tuesday, adding “mine is just one experience.”
Read USA TODAY’s interview with Hilton:After alleging abuse at her old school, Paris Hilton isn’t backing down
Upon arrival on the National Mall, wedged between the Capitol building and the Washington Monument, Hilton waved to onlookers, joined by husband Carter Reum.
She traded her pointed stilettos for simple flats and put on a black hoodie bedazzled to read “warrior” when she walked into a replica of a small solitary confinement booth, simulating what many young people have said they experience in residential treatment facilities.
“It just hard being in here,” a visibly emotional Hilton told the crowd. “It’s just really triggering.”
Speakers, including several fellow survivors and state senators from Utah and Oregon, expressed a need for legislature at the federal level to regulate the industry’s transportation of children, licensing and staff training requirements, and to increase transparency on how government funding dedicated to treating and educating children is being spent.
“This is a bipartisan issue,” said State Sen. Mike McKell, R-Utah. He was also joined by State Sen. Sara Gelser Blouin, D-Ore.
In 2020, Hilton told USA TODAY that after sharing her story with the world, it was time for the real work to begin. “I’m not going to stop until it’s done,” she said.
Since then, she has met with lawmakers in Utah and D.C., and on Tuesday met with senators and White House staff. Hilton and her team of advocates have been working with Rep. Ro Khanna, D-Calif., and Sen. Jeff Merkley, D-Ore., on the Stop Institutional Child Abuse Act, which is expected to be introduced to Congress in the next few months.
I promise you I’m going to keep fighting,” Hilton vowed to fellow survivors.