SALT LAKE CITY (ABC4) -Paris Hilton along with a panel of Utah advocates and lawmakers sat down with ABC4’s Glen Mills to discuss using your voice to create policy change.
“When I was 16, I was kidnapped in the middle of the night by an escort company and I was brought to Utah, Provo Canyon School. While I was there, I experienced verbal, psychological, and physical abuse on a daily basis,” Hilton tells ABC4’s Glen Mills in an exclusive panel conversation.
“I experienced things that no child should ever have to go through or see. It was traumatizing. To this day, I still have severe nightmares and Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder.”
Hilton says she is now speaking publicly about the abuse so other children don’t have to face the same circumstances she says she experienced while at the Provo Canyon School.
In February, Hilton testified on a bill that addresses the issues she has been advocating for over youth treatment facilities.
On Tuesday afternoon, Hilton returned to Salt Lake City to attend the ceremonial signing of Senate Bill 127, known as “Human Services Program Amendments,” into law.
In September, Hilton started a petition with allegations against Provo Canyon School. It addressed what she claims as “institutional child abuse she suffered as a teenager at Provo Canyon School (PCS), a notorious residential treatment center in Utah that still operates today,” as stated in the petition.
Hilton was joined by Utah Senator Mike McKell, Oregon Senator Sara Gelser, and Salt Lake Tribune Reporter Jessica Miller.
Also joining Hilton was Caroline Lorson, a survivor of the troubled teen industry and host of #BreakingCodeSilence Podcast, who also says she went to a behavior modification school here in Utah.
Lorson recounts a similar experience.
She tells ABC4 she was sent to the school when she was 14-years-old and after arriving, “it became apparent very quickly that this was not a normal boarding school.”
“I wasn’t allowed to talk, I wasn’t allowed to make eye contact with any of my peers, I wasn’t allowed to move freely or stand up or sit down on my own…” Lorson explains.
She says during her two-and-a-half years at the school, she lived most of her life in “complete silence.”
“It was one of the most traumatizing experiences of my life. Not to mention the physical abuse and threats of violence that were pervasive throughout my stay there,” Lorson adds.
In previous testimony, Hilton has told lawmakers that she can’t sleep at night after the abuse she says she experienced and lawmakers shouldn’t be able to sleep either knowing that abuse at these facilities is still going on.
“When I got out of that place, I made a promise to myself that I was never going to talk about it or think about it again because it was just too painful.”
That all changed when she was filming her YouTube documentary, “This is Paris.”
She says during the filming, she started opening up about her experiences and began doing research on the abuse she says happened to her 20 years ago.
“That’s why I knew I needed to use my platform and my voice to make change,” Hilton explains.
Utah Senator Mike Mckell and Oregon State Senator Sara Gelser joined the panel to discuss what lawmakers are doing to make sure the abuse that Hilton and Lorson say they endured at these youth facilities doesn’t continue to happen.
Sen. Mckell was a sponsor of SB127, which aims to address issues that Hilton has been advocating for with Utah’s youth treatment facilities.
Mckell tells ABC4’s Glen Mills that he had a family member that worked at a youth treatment center who was attacked, giving him a traumatic brain injury. He says since that time he has been looking for ways to fix the issues going on in these facilities.
Mckell tells ABC4 that when Paris Hilton came to Utah in the fall of 2020 to shine a light on the abuse in these facilities, it pushed him to dig into ways to solve the issue.
For Oregon Senator Sara Gelser, who chairs a human services committee, abuse at congregate-care facilities is a very familiar topic to her.
“Several years ago, I started speaking with kids in congregate care. The stories they told were overwhelming and heartbreaking,” Sen. Gelser explains.
“It is just critical that we make the changes in law to keep these kids safe. They deserve so much better than what they’re getting right now.”
Watch the entire discussion in the video at the top of the story.