*T/W: This article contains depictions of abuse that may be triggering for some. Reader discretion is advised.
Paris Hilton has come a long way since her stint on ‘The Simple Life’. While the show – which she starred in alongside the adoptive daughter of singer Lionel Richie, Nicole Richie – catapulted her to stardom, it also built a persona around the young woman: one of a “dumb blonde” and the “party girl-heiress”. Obviously, there is a multitude of issues surrounding such a label and it is one Hilton has had to live with and work to break out of ever since. And while many don’t know this, everything that Hilton portrayed on ‘The Simple Life’ – from the valley girl accent to the breathy one-liners said in a childish voice – was exactly that: a persona.
“People assume before they meet me that I’m a really ditzy dumb blonde. That’s the one thing that kind of annoys me sometimes. They just think because of the reality show that’s who I really am. But that was just a character that I created. I didn’t realize what a huge success [it would be…] With everything that’s happening, though, with my business, I think people can understand that you couldn’t possibly get this far being a dumb blonde.”
Rightly so, too. The 39-year-old is a successful businesswoman, said to include 19 product lines and 50 boutiques worldwide and a New York Times Best Selling author. On top of that, she’s made a name as a singer and DJ. Now, she’s adding advocate to her repertoire. Hilton has vowed to be the voice for the troubled teen industry, having been the victim of abuse while attending a “therapeutic boarding school” for emotionally troubled teens.
Hilton initially revealed and delved into the trauma she had had to endure at the age of 16 in her documentary, “This Is Paris”. Her voice, nearly unrecognisable in its much deeper tone, matches the heaviness of the topic. She went on to detail the experience and effect of the emotional, physical and psychological abuse inflicted on her by staff members of Provo Canyon School (PCS) in Utah, explaining:
“It does something to you, especially being a teenager where you don’t even have an identity yet. They try to strip it away and try to break you down as much as possible. And when I got out of there, I didn’t realise that so many things about myself stemmed from there. Not being able to trust people, not letting people in and just feeling scared around people, not really having great social skills because you couldn’t even talk.’’
View this post on Instagram
Earlier this week, Hilton appeared in a Utah court to testify against the school, describing how she was “cut off from the outside world and stripped of all my human rights”.
“My name is Paris Hilton, I am an institutional abuse survivor and I speak today on behalf of the hundreds of thousands of children currently in residential care facilities across the United States. For the past 20 years, I have had a recurring nightmare where I’m kidnapped in the middle of the night by two strangers, strip-searched, and locked in a facility. I wish I could tell you that this haunting nightmare was just a dream, but it is not.”
Amongst the abuse, she was forced to endure was solitary confinement, constant screaming and bullying and…
“Without a diagnosis, I was forced to consume medication that made me feel numb and exhausted. I didn’t breathe fresh air or see the sunlight for 11 months. There was zero privacy — every time I would use the bathroom or take a shower — it was monitored. At 16 years old — as a child — I felt their piercing eyes staring at my naked body. I was just a kid and felt violated every single day.”
As for why now, and why she is reliving those traumatic experiences so publicly?
“Talking about something so personal was and is still terrifying. And I cannot go to sleep at night knowing that there are children that are enduring the same abuse that I and so many others went through. Neither should you. I am proof that money doesn’t protect against abuse.”
View this post on Instagram
Since her allegations were made public, Provo Canyon School has been contacted for a statement and released two; one to PEOPLE, who reached out for comment:
“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 this time.”
In a second and more lengthy statement that dismissed the use of “‘solitary confinement’ as a form of intervention” or the prescription of “any drug or medication as a means of discipline.”
“We do not condone or promote any form of abuse Any and all alleged/suspected abuse is reported immediately to our state regulatory authorities, law enforcement and Child Protective Services, as required. We are committed to providing high-quality care to youth with special, and often complex, emotional, behavioral and psychiatric needs.”
Nevertheless, Hilton’s statement (along with two others’) has helped unanimously pass a bill that would increase transparency and regulations so help end abusive practices in Utah’s youth treatment centers.
Listen to her powerful testimony here:
*Cover image credits: Instagram / @parishilton