Paris Hilton Is A Trauma Survivor On A Mission To Stop Abuse At Youth Treatment Centers

by Lindsay Wolf
Paris Hilton wearing a black dress with a white lace collar
Scary Mommy and Bryan Dozier/Shutterstock

As a survivor of childhood trauma, I know firsthand how painful it feels to remain silent. To endure abuse as you stuff down every feeling of anger, shame, and fear takes a long-term toll on your mind, body, and even nervous system. I never thought I would have something so troubling in common with a celebrity like Paris Hilton.

Whether you’ve experienced trauma at home, at school, or while in the care of any grownup in your world, the result for children and teens remains the same. Unhealed generational abuse coupled with the pressure to create kids who comply at any cost has the dangerous power to eviscerate a kid’s self-esteem and instill them with a constant sense of inner panic that can last well into adulthood. It can also cause them to perpetuate the abusive cycle in future relationships if left unhealed.

This is exactly why we need as many survivors as possible to speak up and share their story. Because the cycle needs to be broken, and it starts with each of us choosing to break it.

As a preteen living in a world of dysfunction, I used to see Paris Hilton gracing the cover of tabloid magazines and television shows and only believed what the media told me — that she was just some rich socialite who partied with Britney Spears like it was 1999. I figured she didn’t know what it truly meant to struggle, since her family seemed rich and privileged beyond their wildest dreams. I envied her, to be completely honest.

Unfortunately, there was so much more to her story than I could ever have imagined.

In a heartbreaking piece for The Washington Post, Paris Hilton recalls the horrific account of when she was shipped off against her will at 16-years-old to a congregate care facility for “troubled” youth. You may have seen some of these teenagers on television being confronted by the infamous Dr. Phil, who is currently facing a negligence lawsuit over sexual assault allegations that occurred at the exact Utah ranch where he and his staff pressured the survivor’s parents to send her to as a teenager.

Hilton describes the process of being taken from her home as “parent-approved kidnapping.”

“When I was 16 years old, I was awakened one night by two men with handcuffs,” she writes. “They asked if I wanted to go ‘the easy way or the hard way’ before carrying me from my home as I screamed for help. I had no idea why or where I was being taken … I soon learned I was being sent to hell.”

Hilton was carted off to four different facilities, each with staff members who psychologically and physically abused her. Their behavior was nothing short of terrifying.

“I was choked, slapped across the face, spied on [by male staff] while showering, and deprived of sleep,” she explains. “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 was too afraid to tell anyone outside of the centers about the abuse, since her communication with family and friends was monitored and censored. This seems to be the tragic norm of most facilities, with a painful communication divide forced between parents and kids. Even worse, staff focused heavily on gaslighting the young victims and lying to their caregivers.

The secret revelations Paris Hilton has brought to light only show us how broken this cruel system has been and continues to be, with kids often coming out of these centers more traumatized than before they entered them.

“An estimated 120,000 young people are housed in congregate-care facilities at any given time across the country, many of them placed through the child welfare and juvenile justice systems,” she shares. “But there is little oversight. State inspections are typically minimal, and there [are] no federal or other organized data tracking placements, reporting critical incidents, or monitoring quality of care.”

Paris Hilton is calling on the Biden Administration to institute a federal bill of rights for kids in congregate care facilities as soon as possible. She also met with Congress last week about the proposed bill, teaming up with Democratic California State Rep. Ro Khanna and other senators to push for legislation that helps prevent further abuse at these treatment centers.

“Every child placed in these facilities should have a right to a safe, humane environment, free from threats and practices of solitary confinement, and physical or chemical restraint at the whim of staff,” Hilton writes. “Had such rights existed and been enforced, I and countless other survivors could have been spared the abuse and trauma that have haunted us into adulthood.”

I would never wish the horrors that Paris Hilton experienced on anyone — but as a survivor, I sure am thankful that she has chosen visibility and action over silence.