Utah Lawmakers Pass Abuse Bill Following Paris Hilton’s Testimony
Utah lawmakers passed a bill to regulate youth residential treatment facilities less than a month after Paris Hilton testified on behalf of abuse survivors.
On February 8, 2021, Paris Hilton testified before Utah lawmakers. She spoke out against abuse in residential treatment facilities in Utah. Staff at such institutions are known to physically or sexually abuse children. In her testimony, Hilton advocated for a bill that would regulate Utah’s human services programs and provide more government oversight.
On March 2, 2021, the bill officially passed through the Utah State Legislature. The bill now goes to Governor Spencer Cox to be signed into law.
Paris Hilton Testifies Alongside Other Abuse Survivors
This cause is personal for Hilton. As a teenager, she was homed at a residential treatment facility in Utah called Provo Canyon School. During her 11-month stay, she was regularly abused and witnessed the abuse of other residents.
In February 2021, Hilton, alongside several other abuse survivors, testified in front of Utah’s Senate Judiciary, Law Enforcement, and Criminal Justice Committee. She and the other survivors described the abuse they suffered and witnessed at facilities in Utah. They called on lawmakers to pass Senate Bill 127 (SB 127) to prevent future abuse in these facilities.
This bill directly impacts youth residential treatment facilities, like the one where Hilton was abused. Unfortunately, this bill will not address physical or sexual abuse in boarding schools.
“Talking about something so personal was and is still terrifying. But I can not go to sleep at night knowing that there are children that are experiencing the same abuse that I and so many others went through, and neither should you.”
SB 127 Regulates Human Services Programs
SB 127 installs more government oversight for human services programs like residential treatment facilities for minors.
Among other measures, the bill requires certain facilities to report the use of physical restraints and involuntary confinement. It also limits the use of sedatives or mechanical restraints, such as straitjackets, in these facilities. Additionally, the bill requires four facility inspections a year by the Utah Department of Human Services’ Office of Licensing. Currently, most facilities are inspected once a year.
There are nearly 100 youth residential centers in the state of Utah. According to The Salt Lake Tribune, roughly 12,000 minors have attended these treatment facilities in the last five years.
One of the bill’s sponsors — Senator Mike McKell, R-Spanish Fork — told The Salt Lake Tribune, “There’s a lot of money in this industry. It’s a large, large industry. And I have become increasingly concerned that the appropriate amount of regulation has not caught up.”
“This has been a problem, obviously, in Utah for a long, long time. And frankly, we failed to protect you. And I’m sorry about that. This is about children. This is about our families. This is about our reputation. Our action on this could not be more urgent.”
SB 127 Passes Through Utah Legislature
Following the heartfelt testimonies of survivors on February 8, 2021, the Senate committee passed the bill unanimously. From there, the bill was passed unanimously by the full Senate later in the month.
On March 2, 2021, the Utah House passed the bill 70–2. Governor Spencer Cox is now expected to sign the bill.
Hilton responded to the news with an Instagram post, writing, “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!”
Hilton Continues To Advocate For Survivors
In her testimony, Hilton also called on President Joe Biden and U.S. Congress members to address the issue nationwide. Hilton plans to advocate for similar federal legislation.
“This is just the first step. This bill is going to definitely help a lot of children but there’s obviously more work to do, and I’m not going to stop until change happens.”
Eppolito, S. (2021, February 8). Paris Hilton says she was abused as teen at Utah school. The Associated Press.
Gstalter, M. (2021, February 9). Paris Hilton testifies in favor of Utah bill to regulate centers for troubled teens, recalls ‘traumatizing’ treatment. The Hill.
Human Services Program Amendments, Senate Bill 127, (Utah 2021).
Miller, J. (2021, February 8). ‘This ain’t Utah’: Advocates led by Paris Hilton urge lawmakers to pass reforms for ‘troubled-teen’ treatment centers. The Salt Lake Tribune.
Miller, J. (2021, February 23). Effort to stop abuse at Utah’s ‘troubled-teen’ centers is sailing through the Legislature. The Salt Lake Tribune.
Morin, N. (2021, February 9). Paris Hilton Says She Was “Abused On A Daily Basis” At Utah Boarding School In Harrowing Testimony. Refinery29.
Polus, S. (2021, March 3). Utah’s troubled teen institution reform bill. The Hill.
Richards, C. (2021, March 3). Utah Legislature advances bill to regulate youth treatment centers. Standard-Examiner.