OAN Brooke Mallory
UPDATED 3:00 PM – Friday, April 28, 2023
In support of a newly introduced bill to regulate “troubled teen” institutions, designed for young people battling with substance abuse and behavioral problems, Paris Hilton spoke at Capitol Hill on Thursday with a bipartisan group of legislators.
At the Capitol, Hilton was joined by Senators Tommy Tuberville (R-Ala.), Jeff Merkley (D-Ore.), John Cornyn (R-Texas), Ro Khanna (D-Calif.), and Buddy Carter (R-Ga.) to discuss the Stop Institutional Child Abuse Act, which they sponsored.
The legislation would establish federal reporting standards and data for the “troubled teen” industry, and it would also give states advice on the best practices to stop abuse.
The actress, model, and heiress of Hilton Hotels admitted to the Capitol crowd that she, herself, was a victim of the shady business. Hilton detailed how, between the ages of 16 and 18, staff members at various “troubled teen” facilities both physically and mentally mistreated her.
“I witnessed and experienced sexual abuse from adult staff as well as endured verbal and emotional abuse daily. I was yelled at, dehumanized, silenced and stripped of any semblance of privacy,” she said. “When I attempted to tell my parents about the abuse on the phone, staff would stop and immediately hang up the phone and punish me. On top of this, you had no access to the outside doors, no sunlight, no fresh air. These were considered privileges. What I went through will haunt me for the rest of my life.”
Hilton alleged that she was brutally confined and medically drugged against her will. She also added that male employees of the facilities would keep an eye on her while she showered.
Other victims similarly shared their accounts of abuse that they had experienced as children in these residential facilities.
“I don’t think my parents had any idea what they were signing up for either… I don’t think that my parents had any idea that by spending my college savings on programs, they were exposing me to more trauma. They believed they were going to be able to save my life,” said Jessica Jackson, a child abuse survivor and activist. “See, I’d lost my way somewhere around 12, 13. I was medicating my own depression. I even attempted to take my life. What I really needed was love, not exposure to the abuse in these programs.”
“When it comes to institutional care, we discover that too often that without oversight, love and compassion are in short supply… That at far too many facilities, institutional care has become institutional abuse,” Senator Merkley said.
The senator explained how $23 billion in public funds finance these programs nationwide, many of which affect around 60,000 children. Tuberville and other speakers emphasized that while not all of the facilities are cruel and not all children are harmed, many cases of abuse still go unreported to the authorities.
Following a study into the regulation of the sector, the Government Accountability Office (GAO) recommended drafting legislation outlining stricter guidelines for the facilities.
“Differing interpretations of what constitutes maltreatment may result in facilities over- or under-reporting incidents, thereby complicating states’ data collection efforts, according to state officials and other stakeholders,” the GAO report stated.
According to advocates, these efforts aim to create effective reporting that will persuade states to cease abuse that is occurring in these programs and to ensure that parents are fully aware of the policies.
Hilton last appeared on Capitol Hill in 2021 to promote the Accountability for Congregate Care Act, a similar proposal. The bill’s sponsors also included Khanna and Merkley.
Khanna expressed admiration for Hilton’s steadfast dedication to supporting victims of institutional child abuse, as compared to other celebrities who solely take pictures, or “fly in, they do a press conference, you have some bill introduced, and then they leave.”
“They came in three years ago and I remember talking to Paris’s mom … and they said ‘We actually want to get legislation done.’ And month after month with the organization they’ve been working to meet members of Congress … doing the work to actually get something done,” Khanna said.
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