“I was born a sex symbol but anything sexual terrified me.” – Paris Hilton
Apparently we knew Paris Hilton only skin-deep. “PARIS THE MEMOIR,” out March 14, is her raw, funny, unabashed autobiography about navigating the aftermath of sexual assault she endured as a locked-down teen before #MeToo, and 20 years after. She is the survivor of violent sexual, physical and emotional abuse that occurred when she was 17 and forced to spend 11 months at Provo Canyon Boarding School, a therapeutic treatment center for troubled teens in Utah (still in operation).
Hilton’s sparkling international persona as pop-culture icon, socialite, DJ, entrepreneur, YK2 star and the subject of Pink’s “Stupid Girls” music video, disguised a vastly different reality, she wrote. Life began to spiral with missed diagnoses for ADHD, which, left untreated, exacerbated her reckless thrill-seeking. “I’m not a dumb blonde,” she told Vogue. “I’m just really good at pretending to be one.”
“The ADHD brain,” she wrote in the memoir’s preface, quoting Dr. Edward Hallowell, author of Driven to Distraction, “is like a Ferrari with bicycle brakes: powerful but difficult to control.”
She experienced her first unwanted (ever) sexual encounter at 15 with an older man she met hanging out with friends at an LA mall. He drugged her and raped her while she was unconscious, “before I drank or did anything.” After the incident she began “bunking [off] school and partying without her parents’ consent.” The same year she was groomed by a male teacher, but her parents intercepted.
Desperate after two back-to-back scrapes, her parents sent her to CEDU, a California school for troubled teens. She ran away and they sent her to a wilderness program in Montana called Ascent. She escaped again. Then Kathy and Richard Hilton made a radical decision notching up the concept of “tough love”: they arranged to have Paris kidnapped by two strange men who plucked her from her bed in the middle of the night and took her to Provo Canyon.
At Provo Canyon male staff members routinely awakened her and other “pretty” female teens at 3:00-4:00 in the morning and forced them into a room where they underwent gynecological exams without a doctor present. Too humiliated to define the incidents as “digital rapes,” she, like her assailants, referred to them as “medical exams.”
“Sleep-deprived & heavily medicated, I didn’t understand what was happening,” she wrote. “I was forced to lie on a padded table, spread my legs & submit to cervical exams. “I cried while they held me down & said, ‘No!’ They just said, ‘Shut up. Be quiet. Stop struggling or you’ll go to Obs’” [isolation].
She cried, too, as she was typing the story because she had “forgotten about it for a long time and the memories were just coming back more.” Her speaking out is to encourage every other scared victim of sexual abuse to be brave and “speak your truth to keep this from happening again to others.”
The troubled teen industry is big business across several states – Idaho, Florida, Iowa, Utah – operating as a network of private youth programs, therapeutic boarding schools like Provo Canyon, religious academies, wilderness programs and drug rehab centers – going back more than 50 years. The network is mostly an unregulated congregate of facilities treating patients/students/campers with “tough love” and offering other non-evidence based therapeutics, services and shelter.
For years she felt powerless – “they teach you that” – to do anything about the abuse, largely suppressing it. She was arrested in Las Vegas in 2010 for drug possession at age 29 and given a year’s probation. The memoir explains her addiction to drugs – as being rooted in denial after the abuse, looking for opiates to obliviate her pain.
Since the arrest 13 years ago, Hilton testified at a state Senate committee hearing at the Utah Capitol in favor of the bill that would require more government oversight of youth residential treatment centers and require them to document when they use restraints. The measure passed unanimously following emotional testimony from Hilton and several other survivors.
“My name is Paris Hilton. I am an institutional abuse survivor and I speak today on behalf of hundreds of thousands of children currently in residential care facilities across the United States,” she told the committee in 2021.
In May (2022), she was joined by the national non-profit Unsilenced, an advocacy organization fighting institutional child abuse, and more than 200 survivors and child welfare advocates at a press conference on the National Mall in Washington, DC, to advocate for bipartisan federal legislation – The Stop Institutional Child Abuse Act – and educate lawmakers in both parties.
The author doesn’t question her choices anymore. She is happily married to Carter Reum, an American author, entrepreneur and venture capitalist. Together in January they welcomed their first child, a baby son, Phoenix. She has said she always dreamed of being a mother. “I buried my truth for so long. But I’m proud of the strong woman I’ve become.”
If you, a friend or loved one has been abused or sexually assaulted at an institutional school or other “tough love” facility, please speak out. We are here to help. We want to hear your story in strict confidence. Contact Us