Every year, thousands of teenagers are shipped to boarding schools, boot camps, and other facilities against their will. Some may call it tough love, but the “troubled teen industry,” which generates billions of dollars annually, is reportedly a hotbed of psychological and physical abuse that traumatizes young people for the rest of their lives.
And Paris Hilton, a self-described victim of this industry, wants it to stop. The entrepreneur and reality star was in Washington, D.C., on Wednesday to advocate for accountability alongside survivors, advocates, and group of Democratic lawmakers including Senator Jeff Merkely (D-Ore.) and Representative Ro Khanna (D-Calif.).
Merkely and Khanna are co-sponsoring the new Accountability for Congregate Care Act, which will soon be introduced in both houses of Congress. “I’m confident that this bill will create a world where all youth have the support and opportunity to heal, thrive, and not just survive,” Hilton said Wednesday of the ACCA.
Paris Hilton: “My parents were promised the tough love would fix me …I was strangled, slapped across the face, watched in the shower by males … forced to take medication without a diagnosis, not given proper education, thrown into solitary confinement” pic.twitter.com/NqS69TSZkN
— Emily Brooks (@emilybrooksnews) October 20, 2021
Hilton’s appearance on Capitol Hill comes two days after she published an opinion piece in The Washington Post recounting her experience in the industry. In the piece, Hilton recounts being woken up in the middle of the night and handcuffed by two men as part of a “parent-approved kidnapping.” She was only 16 years old, and would ultimately find her way through four separate “troubled teen” facilities. “I was choked, slapped across the face, spied on while showering and deprived of sleep,” Hilton wrote. “I was called vulgar names and forced to take medication without a diagnosis. At one Utah facility, I was locked in solitary confinement in a room where the walls were covered in scratch marks and blood stains.”
Hilton notes that the last time Congress acknowledged the abuse issue at these congregate care facilities, where an estimated 120,000 young people are housed at any given time, was in a 2008 government accountability report. The report found that ineffective management in facilities led the “death and abuse” of young people, but over 10 years later they’re still able to operate with little or no transparency. Hilton called for President Biden and Congress to enact a “bill of rights” for young people in congregate care facilities, and for the federal government to provide funding so states can hold these facilities to account. “Ensuring that children, including at-risk children, are safe from institutional abuse, neglect and coercion isn’t a Republican or Democratic issue,” Hilton wrote. “It’s a basic human rights issue that requires immediate action. Those in power have an obligation to protect the powerless.”
She reiterated her call for action on Wednesday. “The multi-billion-dollar troubled teen industry has been able to mislead parents, school districts, child welfare agencies, and juvenile justice systems for decades,” Hilton said. “The reason is a system-wide lack of transparency and accountability. It’s clear that the state-by-state patchwork of limited, weak oversight and inconsistent licensing requirements is not working. Federal law and funding are desperately needed to bring real reform and true accountability to congregate care in America.”