In new book, Paris Hilton recalls abuse at the hands of former Provo Canyon School staff
Hilton’s new memoir ‘Paris,’ released this week, details her time spent in a Utah treatment center which lead to her advocacy for change
At the Provo Canyon School, Paris Hilton remembers being stripped of her name and given a number, routinely sent to isolation rooms, subjected to random, late-night gynecologic exams, and recalls seeing staff “dominate” uncooperative students.
That’s all according to “Paris,” a new memoir released this week that, among other things, details the celebrity entrepreneur’s early life and the time she spent in the teen treatment industry, including an 11-month stint at the Provo, Utah institution.
“Writing this book has been one of the most terrifying yet rewarding things I’ve ever done,” she wrote on Twitter Tuesday.
Today is the day!!! My book, "Paris: The Memoir" is available NOW! 📕💖 Writing this book has been one of the most terrifying yet rewarding things I've ever done. I can't wait for you to get to know the real me.🥰 Order your copy here 💫 https://t.co/jlGGX589gQ pic.twitter.com/0iwTVTdwoa— ParisHilton (@ParisHilton) March 14, 2023
Hilton over the past three years has put a spotlight on Utah, spearheading a protest in 2020 to urge the closing of Provo Canyon School, pushing lawmakers to pass a bill during the 2021 General Session to bolster regulations for troubled teen centers, and joining Utah Sen. Mike McKell in Washington, D.C. to promote industry reform at the national level.
The 2021 law ultimately passed in Utah. It requires the state to perform more inspections on treatment centers, restricts what kinds of physical restraints and drugs can be used, and directs institutions to record instances where employees forcibly restrain students.
Provo Canyon School is still open after being acquired in 2000 by a different company — Universal Health Services. However, there have been allegations that trouble continued under new ownership.
Hilton told Utah lawmakers in 2021 the Provo Canyon School “excuses their abusive behavior by saying they are now owned by a new company.”
In a statement to the Deseret News on Wednesday, Universal Health Services said it “cannot comment on the operations or student experience prior to” acquiring Provo Canyon School.
“While we acknowledge there are individuals over the many years who believe they were not helped by the program, we are heartened by the many stories former residents share about how their stay was a pivot point in improving — and in many cases, saving — their lives,” the statement reads, noting that the interventions detailed by Hilton — including “solitary confinement” — are not used anymore. The school also said it supports increased transparency in the teen treatment industry.
“We are concerned that the current media coverage may increase the stigma around seeking help for behavioral health concerns. This would be a disservice if it leads people away from seeking necessary care and increases the stigma around mental health that providers, organizations, advocates and members of the public have worked so hard — and made much progress over the years — to break.”
‘Bad things happen there’
The Provo Canyon School wasn’t Hilton’s first experience at a treatment center. In “Paris,” she recalls first being sent to the now defunct CEDU, a boarding school in California; Ascent, a wilderness treatment program in Montana; then The Cascade School, also in California.
But even across state lines, the Provo Canyon School instilled fear in the students, Hilton writes.
“Trust me, you do not want to get sent to Provo,” one of her bunkmates at CEDU told her, Hilton writes. “Bad things happen there,” kids would say, according to the book.
At all three schools, Hilton described abuse — both mental and physical. But as she was being admitted to Provo, she was forced to undergo a full pelvic exam which she described as “a step beyond what I experienced at CEDU, Ascent and Cascade.”
Hilton recalls ‘abusive’ staff at Provo
Hilton explains, in detail, the lengths the staff would go to make students at Provo Canyon School uncomfortable. Many of the employees, she claims, degraded children.
Among the staff were “orderlies,” large, intimidating men who acted as the school’s enforcers, tasked with restraining uncooperative students. These hulking athletes could “dominate a 98-pound kid with ease,” Hilton wrote, and if the students resisted, they were injected with a syringe of sedative.
“I don’t know what was in it, but I saw kids immediately go slack when it hit them,” Hilton said of the sedative, which she asserts was used often.
Solitary rooms and ‘medical exams’
Hilton describes the year she spent in Provo as “basically a giant hole in my life.” Much of that is because of the time spent in an “observation room” which, according to Hilton, is akin to solitary confinement punishment.
The observation room is first detailed in her book after she was caught refusing to take the pills prescribed to her. The room was dimly lit and cold, described as a “meat locker.” In the next room over, “a girl screamed and screamed for what seemed like a long time,” Hilton wrote.
Those kinds of experiences led to suicidal ideation, Hilton said.
“... They took everything from me: light, space, comfort, my clothes, my name. We weren't allowed to dance, sing, or even hum. I had no canvas to paint, no clay to sculpt, no way to write, sketch, sew, collage — nothing.”
Hilton says her time at Provo Canyon School gave her a “love-hate relationship” with sleep that would plague her well after she left Utah. Some of that trauma is a result of what she calls “digital rape.”
“They called it a ‘medical exam,’” Hilton writes of the unannounced, late-night trips to the infirmary for a pelvic exam.
The experience was so bad that a student devised a plan to stab one of the employees with multiple syringes that were on hand in the infirmary, then try to escape, according to Hilton. When one of the girls asked “what if he dies?” the student responded: “What if we die?” Hilton writes.
Staff ultimately discovered the plan, and the students were all punished, according to Hilton.
Hilton says she tried to suppress the trauma from her teenage years, describing it as “a basement door that I’d kept locked a long time.”
Years after Hilton left Utah, she Googled “Provo Canyon School” and to her surprise, found that it was still operating. She also came across Reddit forums dedicated to exposing and sharing stories of the abuse.
“Survivors of Provo and CEDU began to piece together a history of abandonment and abuse. The extent of the wreckage was heartbreaking: addiction, PTSD, suicide, shattered sleep, ruined families,” Hilton writes in her book.
In 2020, Hilton helped produce a documentary called “This is Paris” — during production, she reconnected with several girls from Provo Canyon School, an experience she says she was “beyond nervous” for.
Hilton writes that her advocacy ramped up after the documentary — including her work in Utah and Washington, D.C.
“As my advocacy work expands, I’m focused on urgently needed legislation that protects children still in custody, but I’m agonizingly aware of the families torn apart by the troubled-teen industry — families who start out in crisis and end up utterly dismembered with crippling debt and deep, deep emotional scars.”