On September 14th, Paris Hilton, heiress and proto-influencer, released a documentary entitled “This is Paris” on YouTube, tackling her fame and the persona she has played for over 2 decades.
However, at the heart of her documentary lies the trauma imprinted on her at Provo Canyon school when she was a teenager.
Paris has paved the way for other victims to speak up about the abuse experienced at for-profit remote boarding schools known as the “troubled teen” industry.
At these facilities, “troubled teens” will often face sexual, verbal, and physical abuse. Victims have told stories of being kept in solitary confinement with nothing but a dirty mattress to sleep on for months at a time.
“We were constantly pumped up with all sorts of meds,” Cristy Kirwin, who was sent to Provo Canyon at 13, told The New York Post. “I was put on [anti-depressants] Prozac, desipramine and lithium. We were all like zombies. Staffers watched you even when you went to the bathroom. When I was put in isolation I was stripped down to my underwear, in front of male guards.”
The abuse is often cloaked by celebrity endorsements, glossy websites, and the fact that they are only accessible to the mega-rich; a year’s tuition costs around 50,000USD.
This cycle of abuse has gone on for so many decades because parents are led to believe that their children are safe and receiving the treatment they need. In reality, the school monitors all outgoing letters and phone calls to parents. When children complain or speak ill of the school to their parents they are punished.
The “troubled teen” industry has facilities in all 50 states. They can be easily recognized through their code names, such as therapeutic boarding school, wilderness program, juvenile boot camp, behavior modification program, or residential treatment center.
Provo Canyon was eventually sold in 2000 and is now owned by large corporations such as Universal Health Services that have profited greatly by collecting money from Medicaid so that foster children and other “unwanted” children can be dumped there. Like Provo Canyon, many more of these facilities now take children in foster care.
Ultimately these facilities’ harsh methods of “treatment” set the client up for a lifetime of issues, including depression, PTSD, panic attacks, social anxiety, flashbacks, and suicidal tendencies.
Unfortunately, due to the power large corporations hold and legal loopholes, state laws are often unenforced due to the lack of federal oversight. Even regarding the deaths that have occurred in these facilities, almost no one is held accountable.
However, in recent years, the advocacy of former students like Paris has brought to limelight the quiet and damaging industry that preys on prepubescent teens. Reddit forums such as “r/TroubledTeens” create a safe space for victims to discuss their experiences. We can only hope that the people running these dangerous facilities will one day be held accountable for the trauma they have caused.