Reality TV star and socialite Paris Hilton is back in the news, this time to urge President Joe Biden to take more action against the “troubled teen industry.”
In an op-ed for the Washington Post on Tuesday, Hilton demanded that the government do more to intervene against congregate-care facilities in which “misbehaving teens” are sent by either parents or a state government.
The op-ed opens with her own story of being taken to one such facility at 16 and being accosted by men at night armed with handcuffs in a situation that to her, seemed to resemble a “parent-approved kidnapping” more than an intervention.
“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. I had no idea why or where I was being taken against my will. I soon learned I was being sent to hell.”
Hilton states that her parents were suckered in by “misleading marketing” for the “troubled teen industry,” promising to cure her “rebellious behavior.” She claims that these “boot camp” “tough love” facilities are more than therapy – the industry reportedly pulls in approximately $50 billion a year.
In the four facilities Hilton says she was sent to, she claims to have been physically and mentally abused by staff, alleging that staff choked and slapped her, enforced sleep deprivation and even spied on her in the shower. Staff allegedly called her vulgar names and forced her to take prescription medication without a diagnosis. Hilton also claims that in one facility in Utah, scandal-wracked Provo Canyon School, she was locked in a solitary confinement room with walls covered in scratch marks and bloodstains.
With communication to the outside world carefully censored, Hilton said she had no effective way to report this abuse, and that the facilities encouraged an atmosphere of distrust between parents and their children, so that legitimate pleas for help in response to abuse would be dismissed as attention-seeking and complaining by unruly teens.
According to Hilton, a lack of transparency and accountability enables this system to thrive. These facilities, which house as many as 120,000 teens, are often subjected to minimal state regulatory oversight according to Hilton, despite many of them being placed there by state child welfare agencies or juvenile justice systems. Hilton stated that facilities may receive as much as “several hundred dollars per child, per day, for ‘care’ that is systemically abusive.
Hilton noted several incidents that did get media attention, such as the videotaped physical abuse of Cornelius Frederick in 2020 by staff at Lakeside Academy in Michigan, that resulted in the death of the boy, aged 16. While some of these facilities have been shut down, Hilton says that isn’t enough.
In the conclusion to her piece, Hilton made a call to President Joe Biden and Congress for a “bill of rights” for children in congregate care, and called for a comprehensive system for reporting and documenting abuse, and to establish more rigorous and regular inspections of these facilities. Hilton also called for regulation to help establish standards of training for staff, and that states be able to actively prove that the human dignity of children in these facilities is being respected.
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