Courtesy Paris Hilton
Paris Hilton is drawing from her own traumatic experiences in the "troubled teen industry" to push for change on a federal level.
The This Is Paris star, 40, called on President Joe Biden and Congress to enact reform for youth in congregate care and behavior-modification programs, as she detailed her experiences in the system for an op-ed published Monday by the Washington Post.
She recounted the terrifying "parent-approved kidnapping" she experienced in the middle of the night, adding that her parents fell for the "misleading marketing" of facilities like Provo Canyon School in Utah — which she accused of abuse last year — after spending time there and at other boarding schools as a teenager.
"At all four facilities I was sent to in my teens, I endured physical and psychological abuse by staff: I was choked, slapped across the face, spied on while showering and deprived of sleep. I was called vulgar names and forced to take medication without a diagnosis," Hilton wrote. "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 called attention to last year's death of 16-year-old Cornelius Frederick, for which three staff members at the Lakeside Academy in Kalamazoo, Michigan, were charged with involuntary manslaughter earlier this month. Frederick's May 2020 death was ruled a homicide, after he was allegedly forcibly restrained by staffers in response to him throwing a sandwich.
Jen Rovero Paris Hilton
Although Lakeside Academy reformed their policies around restraint, Hilton called for systemic change. "No child should die in the name of 'treatment.' But too many children have," she added in her op-ed.
"Congress and President Biden need to enact a basic federal 'bill of rights' for youth in congregate care. 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 wrote. "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.
"Congress must also provide states with funding to create comprehensive reporting systems for incidents of institutional abuse and to establish standards for best practices and staff training. It should also require states to prove that children's basic rights are being protected.
"Ensuring that children, including at-risk children, are safe from institutional abuse, neglect and coercion isn't a Republican or Democratic issue — it's a basic human rights issue that requires immediate action. Those in power have an obligation to protect the powerless," she concluded.
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Hilton first opened up last August about the alleged abuse she faced during her 11 months at Provo Canyon, the fourth and final boarding school she attended. "I knew it was going to be worse than anywhere else," she told PEOPLE at the time.
"It was supposed to be a school, but [classes] were not the focus at all. From the moment I woke up until I went to bed, it was all day screaming in my face, yelling at me, continuous torture," Hilton added. "The staff would say terrible things. They were constantly making me feel bad about myself and bully me. I think it was their goal to break us down. And they were physically abusive, hitting and strangling us. They wanted to instill fear in the kids so we'd be too scared to disobey them."
When reached by PEOPLE for comment on the allegations, the school responded: "Originally opened in 1971, Provo Canyon School was sold by its previous ownership in August 2000. We therefore cannot comment on the operations or patient experience prior to this time."
The Simple Life star later released a documentary on the topic, titled This Is Paris. Paris has since protested the school alongside fellow survivors, and she's been met with support from stars like Drew Barrymore, Paris Jackson and Kat Von D, who've said they had similar experiences in facilities like Provo Canyon.
Hilton gave an emotional testimony against Provo Canyon in February, in support of a since-passed bill by Utah State Sen. Michael McKell, which called for reform to the state's laws surrounding similar institutions.
"After experiencing abuse at Provo Canyon School, it has been incredibly empowering to have advocated for and help pass SB 127 with Senator Mike McKell, a law that increases oversight of the led Teen Industry in Utah and places significant limits on the use of restraint, drugs, and seclusion rooms among other methods," she told PEOPLE in a statement when the bill passed. "I needed this bill when I was in residential care and I am honored to support the thousands of youth who now have greater protections. This is only the beginning – I plan to approach the federal arena with a bill that will protect youth across the nation in these types of facilities."
If you suspect child abuse, call the Childhelp National Child Abuse Hotline at 1-800-4-A-Child or 1-800-422-4453, or go to www.childhelp.org. All calls are toll-free and confidential. The hotline is available 24/7 in more than 170 languages.