The Horror of “The Simple Life”

Let’s address the elephant in the room right off the bat. Paris Hilton is a controversial figure. Her rise to fame had more to do with her family’s inheritance than it did with anyone’s skill or talent. Perhaps she was born a decade too early because it is common to mistake shock value with value. But for this blog, let’s compartmentalize.  

Paris Hilton, reality star, heiress, mediocre DJ—is still a human being. 

She is worthy of being treated like one. We all are, regardless of how much or little we have been given. Money can buy many things—but as the old adage goes, it can’t buy happiness, and it sure as hell can’t buy you protection from the atrocities of abuse. 

On Monday, February 8, 2021, Paris Hilton bravely went before the Utah Senate Judiciary, Law Enforcement, and Criminal Justice Committee about the horrific abuse she suffered as a teenager while placed in a residential program called the Provo Canyon School.

“School” is a term to be interpreted loosely. These multi-state facilities have very little oversight or regulation. Their intent is for children who have behavioral issues, but one could argue the “issue” lies with the program intended to help them.  

While most psychological experts would consider the phrase “troubled teen” to be antiquated and a misnomer, parents who can afford to pay for these brick-and-mortar abuse institutions continue to send their children. Also, judges who are perhaps ill-equipped to accurately assess a minor’s situation and struggle to offer guidance on how to help remedy it tend to send children to these “schools”.

I have become all too familiar with these jail-like facilities throughout my career, which are a part of an extraordinarily lucrative industry. These programs started in the 1940s. You know, back when cigarettes were prescribed for constipation and segregation was protected under laws in the south. While they are less restrictive than a psychiatric hospital, they are often the last resort for families overwhelmed by a child’s poor behavior.

The guise is that children are placed in these facilities as a “therapeutic measure”. This is not a misnomer but misinformation all together. I’m pretty sure “therapy” doesn’t involve solitary confinement, beatings, and verbal and sexual abuse…in fact, I’m confident those are the reasons people enter therapy.  

The facilities have used various approaches (“wilderness” programs, boot camps, behavioral modification sessions), all of which amount to nothing more than different marketing strategies to sell the same over-priced crap.  

Here is where it gets alarming. There is no required federal tracking of abuse allegations, despite the people running these facilities receiving federal funding. There is not even a comprehensive, nationwide database of all of these residential programs. There is little to no monitoring of how well these “schools” teach kids overall and no required national tracking of abuse and neglect allegations. (Pro Publica, 12/15/2015). However, one government survey (now, about 16 years old, which was seven years after Ms. Hilton left the Utah facility) estimates there were at least 3,600 facilities across the country, housing more than 50,000 children every year. 50,000 children trapped in an institution where they are treated like criminals yet have committed no crime. If not completely cut off from friends, family, and even the caseworkers who may have assigned them to the facility, they are isolated. 

  1. Hilton is 39 years old; it took her more than two decades to conjure up the bravery to publicly share her experience. What Ms. Hilton bravely describes in her testimony has happened and continues to happen to thousands of children every day across this country. I dare to agree with her assessment that her money and fame could not protect her from this abuse but certainly had something to do with people believing her story. That in itself is yet another tragedy.  

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