Paris Hilton Is 'Proud' Reform Bill Passes After Her Emotional Testimony of Utah School's Abuse
Paris Hilton is celebrating the passing of a bill she testified on behalf of last month.
Hilton, 39, appeared in a Utah court on Feb. 8 to give testimony against Provo Canyon School — the school whose staff members she has accused of inflicting emotional, physical and psychological abuse on her during her stay as a teenager.
She was one of three people who testified at the hearing in support of a bill brought by State Sen. Michael McKell calling for reform to the state's laws surrounding similar institutions. McKell was inspired to work with Hilton after she held a rally at Provo Canyon in October.
On Wednesday, the bill passed in the Utah legislature and will now become law in the state.
"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," the star tells PEOPLE exclusively in a statement.
"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," she adds. "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."
Hilton marked the victory on her Instagram page on Wednesday as well, sharing that she's "so proud" of the new development.
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"I am so proud to share that SB127, the bill I testified on behalf of has passed the Utah legislature which means it will become law!" she wrote. "This bill protects thousands of youth in residential care from cruel punishments, strip-searches, and seclusion, bans the use of chemical restraint and peer restraint, ensures youth have unmonitored communication with their families, prohibits gender-based discrimination, creates suicide prevention policies, and more."
"So much of the abuse and trauma I experienced at Provo would now be illegal under this new law," she continued. "When I was at Provo Canyon School, I dreamed of making a difference. The teenage version of me would be so incredibly proud to know I accomplished my goal of protecting youth who are experiencing abuse in the name of treatment. Survivors, this is a BIG step towards systemic change!"
In his own statement, McKell said "reform in the troubled teen industry is long overdue."
"I'm ecstatic S.B. 127 passed the Utah Legislature," he said. "It sets a path forward for other states and the country to increase transparency and bring an end to abusive practices in youth residential treatment centers. I want to express my appreciation and applaud Paris Hilton's bravery for using her platform and voice to bring attention to this critical issue. It empowered many others to share their personal stories, resulting in much-needed positive, impacting changes to this industry."
"Paris Hilton and Utah Republican Senator Mike McKell may seem like an unlikely team, but their effective partnership to pass SB 127 will change the lives of thousands of young people for years to come from every state in the US," added Oregon State Sen. Sara Gelser, who has investigated allegations of abuse at youth facilities.
"Youth and survivors across the nation united to tell their stories about abuse in residential care in Utah facilities, Paris used her platform and personal vulnerability to elevate those voices — and Senator McKell listened to these voices, BELIEVED them and took meaningful action," she said. "This legislation and the process that led to it should be a model for all states. We must reform this industry in every corner of this nation-- and that starts with believing the stories of those who experienced these programs."
The entrepreneur previously made allegations against the school in the YouTube Originals documentary This Is Paris that premiered in September. The school is now under different ownership.
Since then, Hilton has been advocating to shut down the Utah boarding school and other institutions whose staff members allegedly abuse minors.
"I buried my truth for so long," Hilton told PEOPLE exclusively in August 2020 of why she came forward 20 years after her stay at the institution. "But I'm proud of the strong woman I've become. People might assume everything in my life came easy to me, but I want to show the world who I truly am."
The socialite was sent to the boarding school by her parents for 11 months in an attempt to tame her rebellious partying.
"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 alleged of her time at the school. "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."
Many of Hilton's former Provo Canyon School classmates also appeared in her YouTube documentary and shared their stories of alleged abuse.
When reached by PEOPLE for comment on the allegations at the time, 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."
In a second and more lengthy statement issued on Sept. 17, after the release of the documentary, the school said staff does not use "'solitary confinement' as a form of intervention" or prescribe "any drug or medication as a means of discipline."
"We do not condone or promote any form of abuse," the statement continued. "Any and all alleged/suspected abuse is reported immediately to our state regulatory authorities, law enforcement and Child Protective Services, as required. We are committed to providing high-quality care to youth with special, and often complex, emotional, behavioral and psychiatric needs."
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.
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