Paris Hilton Just Spoke Out About Her Time in the ‘Troubled Teen Industry’

“I was strangled, slapped across the face, watched in the shower by male staff, called vulgar names,” Paris Hilton said.
October 20, 2021, 5:27pm
Paris Hilton speaks as she joins congressional lawmakers during a press conference on upcoming legislation to establish a bill of rights to protect children placed in congregate care facilities, at the US Capitol in Washington, DC, on October, 20, 2021​.
Paris Hilton speaks as she joins congressional lawmakers during a press conference on upcoming legislation to establish a bill of rights to protect children placed in congregate care facilities, at the US Capitol in Washington, DC, on October, 20, 2021. (Photo by MANDEL NGAN/AFP via Getty Images)

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This week, Paris Hilton showed up in a somewhat unusual spot for the queen of early-aughts reality TV: Congress.

On Wednesday, Hilton lent her support to new legislation that, according to advocates, would create a national bill of rights for children living in group homes and institutional settings. The Accountability for Congregate Care Act would also create a Justice Department commission to set up oversight and accountability over these settings.

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“Every day in America, children in congregate care facilities are being emotionally, physically, and sexually abused,” Hilton said. “Federal law and funding are desperately needed to bring real reform and true accountability to congregate care in America.”

Over the last few years, Hilton has experienced something of a cultural resurgence—one that’s been powered in part by her advocacy for reform in congregate care facilities. Hilton has repeatedly alleged that she was abused during her youth in facilities that are part of the so-called troubled teen industry.

“My parents were promised that tough love would fix me and that sending me across the country was the only way,” Hilton told those gathered at the press conference Wednesday. “I was strangled, slapped across the face, watched in the shower by male staff, called vulgar names, forced to take medication without a diagnosis, not given a proper education, thrown into solitary confinement in a room covered in scratch marks and smeared in blood, and so much more.”

California Rep. Ro Khanna, Oregon Sen. Jeff Merkley, Connecticut Rep. Rosa DeLauro, and California Rep. Adam Schiff—all Democrats—spoke at the press conference in favor of the bill. Khanna said that they were still soliciting Republican support.

“Behind the glossy pamphlets and promises lies a dark truth: the reality of abuse, mistreatment, neglect, torment, and trauma,” Schiff said. “For too long, bad actors in the troubled teen industry have been allowed to prey on desperate parents and vulnerable children, and make child abuse their business model.”

Between 2000 and 2015, more than 80 children died in troubled teen facilities, due to causes like strangulation, starvation, and suicide, Schiff said.

Other people at the press conference spoke about their and others’ experiences in the foster care system, rather than the residential programs that counsel troubled children. As of fiscal year 2019, some 423,000 children were in foster care in the United States, according to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. One of the people who spoke, Uvea Spezza-Lopin, was just 12 years old and has been in foster care since she was a baby.

“If group homes and institutions are supposed to be an intervention, why is the state using it as a result of not having enough foster homes?” said Sixto Cancel, the CEO of Think of Us, which aims to reform the child welfare system. Cancel also grew up in the foster care system before aging out. “This bill cares for a bill of rights, but more importantly, it calls for dignity. If you are abused, if there’s something that happens to you that shouldn’t happen, that you have the right to speak and that someone is obligated to answer.”