"This is Paris" Documentary uncovers systemic abuse
Paris Hilton opens up for the first time about the shocking abuse she suffered as an adolescent at the hands of Provos Canyon School (PCS) in the late 90s in a new documentary. Premiered on the star’s YouTube channel worldwide on September 14th, Hilton breaks her silence on the emotional, mental, physical, and sexual abuse she and her fellow classmates faced and calls upon other survivors to come forward to speak about their experiences. The documentary’s content came as a surprise to viewers, showing a more raw and vulnerable side to the star all while exposing an abusive for-profit school system that has been getting away with their crimes for decades.
I spoke with a survivor of the troubled teen industry and activist with Breaking Code Silence, Rebecca Moorman, the director of the film, Alexandra Dean, and investigative reporter, Jessica Miller, who is both covering the widespread issue of residential treatment centres as well as raising money for survivors to dive deeper into this topic.
In the 90s, to curb Paris’ “out of control behaviour” as a teen, including the partying, modelling, and dressing promiscuously, her parents sent her to multiple behavioral treatment programs, including wilderness “retreats” in which the subjects were forced into constant physical labour, physical, emotional, and mental abuse, but she escaped one after another. The last school she went to was Provo Canyon School for an 11 month span in which she described as the “worst of the worst”.
Like many other survivors, Paris was kidnapped from her home in the middle of the night at the request of her parents, taken out of her New York home in the Waldorf Astoria hotel and transported across the country to rural Utah.
“I thought I was being kidnapped. I started screaming for my mom and dad and no-one came. As they were taking me I saw my parents standing by their door, crying. I was like ‘please help me what’s happening’… I was just so angry and upset I hated them,” she stated in the documentary.
Little did she know that this night would change her life forever.
According to countless witness accounts and findings from reporter Jessica Miller, Provo Canyon School tortured their students through cruel and unwarranted punishment. She has spent over a year researching and reporting on behavioural treatment centres.
“This is an industry that everyone kind of knows about in Utah, because there are so many facilities here. I became interested after a riot at Red Rock Canyon School in April 2019. After looking closely at the school, we found troubling pattern of staffers hurting kids and published an investigative piece. The school announced it would close a few weeks later.”
Miller’s story was without much widespread traction until Paris’ documentary came out in September, “it empowered a huge influx of survivors to speak publicly about their experiences. I've heard from dozens and dozens of people in the last several months ”.
Paris tearfully recalls her nearly year-long stay at Provo,
“There’s no getting out of there. You’re sitting on a chair staring at a wall all day long getting yelled at or hit. I felt like a lot of the people who worked there got off on torturing children and seeing them naked. “ They would often send students to solitary confinement without reason, a completely unprecedented punishment to these teens. “they’d make people take their clothes off and go in there for 20 hours. It felt like I was going crazy. Someone was in the other room that was like in a straight jacket screaming. I was just freezing, I was starving I was alone and I was scared. ”
After revealing this trauma to her mother, there was no apology. Paris only gains closure from the other survivors she surrounds herself with and the work they are continuing to do now.
In the documentary, Paris brought together a few of the girls who spent time at PCS together to discuss and support one another. Reliving their trauma was visually depicted as extremely difficult for the girls, and their retelling was harrowing.
“I still have nightmares and its been 20 years”, said Elizabeth Marrin, Paris’ classmate.
“The staff were abusive they tried really hard to break me and they caused a few cracks… I witnessed and endured physical abuse, restraints, emotional mental abuse. I was forced onto medications. I was taught that everything that happened to me was all my fault. I’m speaking out because no child deserves to be punished for expressing feelings especially when that punishment just equals more toruture and more trauma” Said Raina Lincicum, Paris’ former roommate.
“I was force fed, I was cut off from friends, family. I witnessed girls be physically, emotionally, and sexually abused. I was emotionally abused by staff and peers”, said Jessica Pike, Paris’ best friend at Provo.
Like Paris, Jessica, ended up in an abusive relationship after leaving Provo. “I’m thinking maybe being in places where they’re abusive to you would make you think that that’s a normal way to be“. Paris pondered, looking upon her own life. The effects of these behavioural treatment centres are everlasting.
While we all may be familiar with the bleach blonde party girl with the sultry voice, This documentary exposes the torture she endured, and the girl we’ve come to know through decades of paparazzi moments, is just a constructed reality that came about through trauma. Paris describes this public front as a mask she developed to protect herself, “The mask that I put on and the way that I am and like this extravagance and the photos of me all this stemmed from this place. When I look around my life, it is a cartoon. I created this fantasy world cartoon”
Since the film’s release, the whistleblowing has sent shockwaves through the residential treatment centres with countless victims coming forward with their stories following Paris’ call to action within the documentary including makeup giant, Kat Von D, and Michael Jackson’s daughter, Paris Jackson. “It takes incredible bravery to go back to the school where you were abused, let alone find a voice to stand up for others who are being abused there now” noted the director, Alexandra Dean.
Rebecca Moorman, along with other survivors of residential behavioural treatment centres have banded together to create the “Breaking Code Silence” movement, in which survivors expose the centres that abused them. They gained real traction since the documentary’s release and the impacts are still at work. When speaking with Moorman, she said that “What has started to happen is survivors have started to come forward and tell their stories, but not just on social media. We have been telling them to politicians and reporters, and people have been listening. I think we will see more and more change as time goes on. What I ultimately suspect is happening for programs is that they are nervous that the negative publicity will impact their census, and therefore their profit margins or even ability to operate “.
Moorman finds that the impacts of This is Paris have been lifechanging. “I can’t speak for everyone, but can speak for myself and the folks I’ve been in contact with. People are more willing to come forward and tell their story. In turn, a lot of folks are getting really solid support from family and friends for the first time. Our community is working together in a way that we just haven’t in the past.”
In early October, the socialite took to the streets with a team of survivors and allies by her side to protest Provo Canyon School. Her aim is to shut down for-profit institutions which manipulate parents and traumatize youth. “There are thousands of these schools all around. Provo Canyon is just the first one that I want to go down. From there, it will be a domino effect,” Hilton said. She vows to keep fighting until all the schools that mistreat youths are shuttered.
On the Provo Canyon School website, they claim no responsibility for anything that happened at the school prior to the year 2000, as they are currently under new ownership, maintaining that they are committed to providing high-quality care to youth with special, and often complex, emotional, behavioral and psychiatric needs. However, while Paris and her peers attended the school prior to new management, within Millers recent investigation, six women thus far who attended the school between the years of 2003 and 2017 have come forward with parallel stories- one in which was only eight years old when she was emotionally, physically, and mentally abused under the care of PCS.
Utah’s Disability Law Center announced in October that it would investigate the state’s “troubled-teen” treatment facilities, in hopes of shutting down the industry that has thrived in Utah for decades, and according to Moorman, class action lawsuits may follow.