Paris Hilton joins lawmakers introducing a bill to end abuse in the 'troubled teen' industry: 'What I went through will haunt me for the rest of my life'
Sen. Jeff Merkley told Insider the bill was the first step in bringing transparency and oversight to end abuse in residential treatment centers.
Paris Hilton joined a bipartisan group of lawmakers at the Capitol on Thursday to announce the introduction of a new bill aimed at ending abuse in the "troubled teen" industry.
Sens. Jeff Merkley, John Cornyn, and Tommy Tuberville along with Reps. Ro Khanna and Buddy Carter said at a press conference they were introducing the "Stop Institutional Child Abuse Act." Hilton, who has spoken openly about the abuse she said experienced at such programs as a teen, appeared alongside the lawmakers.
"From the ages of 16 to 18, I was sent to four troubled teen industry facilities, each one more horrific than the last. I witnessed and experienced sexual abuse from adult staff, as well as endured verbal and emotional abuse," Hilton said, continuing: "When I attempted to tell my parents about the abuse on the phone, the staff would immediately hang up the phone and punish me. On top of this, we had no access to the outside doors, no sunlight, no fresh air."
"What I went through will haunt me for the rest of my life," Hilton, now 42, added.
The "troubled teen" industry refers to a range of residential treatment centers nationwide that are aimed at kids struggling with emotional or behavioral issues. Programs have been accused of physical, emotional, and sexual abuse, and teens have died while attending such facilities. Critics say the programs continue to operate without sufficient consequences and too little government oversight, allowing abusive centers to remain open and profit off of the abuse of kids.
According to the lawmakers, the bill introduced Thursday would "provide greater oversight and data transparency for institutional youth treatment programs, begin implementing urgent recommendations to develop robust information sharing systems among states, and promote dissemination of best practices for identifying and preventing institutional child abuse."
"Institutional care, without oversight, all too often becomes institutional abuse," Merkley said in a statement. "Reforming our residential care system would improve the lives of thousands of children across our country, and it merits our urgent attention."
Merkley told Insider that the bill would help gather information on the programs, including where these programs are, how many people they employ, how many youths they treat, what therapeutic practices they use, and what kind of oversight, if any, they currently have.
He said that when lawmakers first started looking into the troubled teen industry, they found they "didn't know what sort of oversight and regulation are appropriate, or even what already exists within different states, and therefore didn't have the ability to create the momentum for a coherent framework to provide that oversight."
With the information that would be gathered as a result of the new bill, Merkley said they can come back and determine the best strategies for oversight and monitoring the programs.
"I think just the passage of this bill will educate so many legislators about the issue and will kind of lay the grounds for regulating this industry," he said.
"There's just a huge amount to learn," Merkley added. "These things have really been hiding out of sight until Paris led the effort to shine a light on them."