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What are therapeutic boarding schools? Paris Hilton opens up on harrowing experience at Provo Canyon School 

Paris Hilton opens up about abusive therapeutic boarding school in New York Time op-ed. (Image via Instagram/@parishilton)
Paris Hilton opens up about abusive therapeutic boarding school in New York Time op-ed. (Image via Instagram/@parishilton)

A recent New York Times op-ed revealed Paris Hilton's disturbing treatment at Provo Canyon School, a therapeutic boarding institution in Utah.

The hotel heiress and media personality spent a year at Provo Canyon in 1997. The treatment facility, like its counterparts across America, is an alternative school that specializes in rehabilitating students with substance abuse problems or unique emotional and behavioral needs.

Hilton had previously spoken out about the mental ramifications of her time there in the YouTube documentary, The Real Story of Paris Hilton and This is Paris podcast.

The op-ed, Can You Punish A Child’s Mental Health Problems Away? dove into the reality of therapeutic boarding schools such as Provo in America and gathered survivors such as Hilton to share their stories.

Paris Hilton took to social media to share a clip from Provo Canyon School that has been doing the rounds online.

She wrote:

"I was abused at Provo Canyon School 20 years ago and I am so heartbroken to see uncovered security footage of a child being thrown to the ground. Click the link below to watch disturbing footage from the school where I was abused."
I was abused at Provo Canyon School 20 years ago and I am so heartbroken to see uncovered security footage of a child being thrown to the ground. Click the link below to watch disturbing footage from the school where I was abused. twitter.com/nytopinion/sta…

Paris Hilton's experience is not uncommon for such American treatment centers

On paper, a therapeutic boarding school is a space for troubled teenagers and young adults. In addition to classes, these schools are meant to offer psychological counseling and help restore students' mental, physical, and emotional health.

Based on the op-ed, however, the reality could not be more different. The op-ed mentioned:

"Former patients from residential treatment facilities whom Times Opinion interviewed said the treatment they received wasn’t intensive or specialized. It often felt more like emotional abuse."

Paris Hilton was a major voice among these survivors. She recalled several incidents of s*xual, physical, and emotional abuse at the facility, which she was unable to process or understand at the time.

A still from The Real Story of Paris Hilton featuring 16-year-old Hilton at Provo Canyon School (Image via YouTube).
A still from The Real Story of Paris Hilton featuring 16-year-old Hilton at Provo Canyon School (Image via YouTube).

In the op-ed, Hilton said:

“It was really scary, and it’s something that I really had blocked out for many years. But it’s coming back all the time now, and I think about it. And now, looking back as an adult, that was definitely s*xual abuse.”

The op-ed further revealed that these institutes are prone to cutting corners for profit and are primarily staffed by minimum-wage employees with little to no training. These matters are exacerbated by the fact that there are only a few laws governing the operations of such spaces, despite running on public taxes.

In May 2022, Paris Hilton, along with other survivors, met with lawmakers in Washington, D.C., to advocate for federal legislation safeguarding the interests of students at these treatment centers.

Despite numerous lawsuits, bankruptcy, threats to revoke its license, and public accounts of abuse from former students, Provo Canyon School has remained open for nearly 50 years.

It's important to open up about these painful moments so I can heal & help put an end to this abuse. Watch the @NYTimes video that shares my story & deeply disturbing information about Provo Canyon School’s owners Universal Health Services. Help me #ShutDownProvo #UHSTakeAction

Paris Hilton has spoken up about the issue several times in the past and is one of the many activists currently calling for its shutdown.

Universal Health Services took ownership of Provo Canyon School in 2000 and has declined to comment on the allegations against the previous owners. They have also not put out any definitive statements on the allegations made since.

Hilton has made her stance very clear. She hopes that wider public awareness of these survivors' stories can bring about positive change.

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Edited by Adelle Fernandes
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