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Paris Hilton meets with members of Congress to urge reform in the ‘troubled-teen industry’

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Speaking to the media on Capitol Hill, Paris Hilton spoke about her experience of abuse as a teenager in congregate facilities, and urged Congress and President Biden to pass the Accountability for Congregate Care Act.

Video Transcript

PARIS HILTON: Good morning. Today, I come here not as Paris Hilton but as a survivor. I want to start by thanking the other survivors speaking today, Caroline, Sixto, and especially Evija. You are incredibly brave for sharing your personal experiences of abuse publicly and for turning your pain into a purpose to create real change in the world.

Senator Jeff Merkley and Congressman Ro Khanna, thank you for your leadership in sponsoring the Accountability for Congregate Care Act and for your commitment to ending abuse and youth congregate care facilities. I am confident that this bill will create a world where all youth have the support and opportunity they need to heal, thrive, and not just survive. And thank you to Chair DeLauro and Congressman Schiff for joining us and offering your support for this bill. It means the world.

For 20 years, I couldn't sleep at night as memories of physical violence, the feeling of loneliness, the loss of peers rushed through my mind when I shut my eyes. This was not just insomnia. It was trauma. One night when I was 16 years old I woke up to two large men entering my bedroom asking me if I wanted to go the easy way or the hard way. Thinking I was being kidnapped, I screamed for my parents, and as I was being physically dragged out of my house I saw them crying in the hallway. They didn't come to my rescue that night.

This was my introduction to the troubled teen industry. My parents were promised that tough love would fix me and that sending me across the country was the only way. I was sent to four facilities over a two year period, and my experience at each one haunts me to this day. 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 and scratch marks and smeared in blood, and so much more.

At Provo Canyon School in Utah, I was given clothes with a number on the tag. I was no longer me I was only number 127. I was forced to stay indoors for 11 months straight, no sunlight, no fresh air. These were considered privileges. Children were regularly hit, thrown into walls, and even sexually abused at Provo.

I wish I could tell you that what I experienced and witnessed was unique or even rare, but sadly, it's not. Every day in America, children in congregate care settings are being physically, emotionally, and sexually abused. Children are even dying at the hands of those responsible for their care. Just last year at Lakeside Academy in Michigan, 16-year-old Cornelius Frederick was restrained by seven staff members for over 12 minutes and later died from suffocation. Why? Because he threw a sandwich in the cafeteria, and for this he died.

The multibillion dollar troubled teen industry has been able to mislead parents, school districts, child welfare agencies, and juvenile justice systems for decades. 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.

I'm proud to stand here today with my fellow survivors and advocates, Senator Merkley, Congressman Khanna, Congressman Schiff, and Chair DeLauro to announce that the Accountability for Congregate Care Act will formally be introduced in both houses of Congress. This bill creates an urgently needed bill of rights to ensure that every child placed into congregate care facilities is provided safe and humane environment. This bill of rights provides protections that I wasn't afforded like access to education, to the outdoors, freedom from abusive treatment, and even the basic right to speak and move freely.

If I had these rights and could have exercised them. I would have been saved from over 20 years of trauma and severe PTSD. Imagine if it was your child who was suffering abuse, neglect, or death in the name of treatment. Wouldn't you do everything in your power to protect them? Ensuring children are safe from institutional abuse isn't a Republican or Democratic issue, it's a basic human rights issue that requires immediate attention. On behalf of hundreds of thousands of institutional abuse survivors across America I urge Congress and President Biden to make this bill the law of the land and give young people in congregate care the rights and protections they so desperately need and deserve.

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