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Former student at Utah school for troubled teens backs claims of abuse made by Paris Hilton

Posted at 10:37 PM, Aug 23, 2020
and last updated 2020-08-24 00:37:09-04

UTAH COUNTY — After celebrity Paris Hilton spoke out against a Utah youth facility for alleged abuse, another woman is backing her claims — hoping the new platform can help drive forward the movement against institutional abuse.

In a trailer for the new documentary "This is Paris," Hilton called out a Utah youth facility — claiming she was abused during her time there in the late 90s.

“I couldn’t tell you guys because every time I tried, I’d get punished by them,” Hilton can be heard saying in the trailer.

The docu-trailer has since created waves across Utah and the nation.

Ahead of the film’s release, the star spoke with People Magazine about her 20-year-old trauma, stemming from months at an Orem-based boarding school for troubled teens called Provo Canyon School.

“[The staff] were physically abusive, hitting and stangling us. They wanted to instill fear in the kids so we’d be too scared to disobey them,” Hilton told People.

Provo Canyon School has operated in the Beehive State since the 1970s under various owners.

The current owners, Universal Health Services, told People they could not comment on Hilton’s claims because they did not acquire the facility until the year 2000, about a year after Hilton left.

However, a woman who was held by PCS after the change of ownership is now backing Hilton’s claims.

“I’m realizing more and more that I’m confronted with it every day,” said Jen Robison. “The issues that occurred when Paris and I were there are still occurring today.”

Robison was admitted to PCS in 2003 at the age of 14 to treat childhood trauma.

“I was struggling with depression and post-traumatic stress disorder from childhood trauma, and I was a pretty raw little kid,” Robison said.

Little did Robison know, the facility would create trauma of its own.

“Basically they brought me in, they strip-searched me in a utility closet, they shaved my head and gave me a number and then they put you into this very rigorous structure that really leads on punishment and fear,” Robison explained. “It’s so abrupt and it’s so frightening, and it’s so confusing that it’s like, ‘OK, well this is my life now.’”

Robison stayed at the facility for 15 months before she returned to her parents’ home. She was sent back soon after.

“After I was dragged by staff and left in isolation, I decided to run away and I did,” Robison explained. “When they caught me, that’s when they began isolating me, both psychologically, not allowing me to speak or look at any of my peers, and then leaving me in the seclusion cell. They call it 'observation,' or at least they did back then — it was a small, cement isolation cell.”

Robison said she still has vivid memories of the verbal and physical abuse and the isolation. Still, looking back, she said she understands how parents think it’s the answer.

“There is just that raw fear if you lose control of your child, and then these places come in,” Robison said.

“They offer this ‘quick fix’ to parents,” she continued. “They give [parents] this hope and this image that they’re going to make it perfect.”

The experience changed her relationship with her family. And now, 15 years after her release in 2005, she’s using her pain to create change.

“There are hundreds of other people that severely struggle with the long-term effects of that institutionalized abuse,” said Robison. “Those people deserve to be seen and feel OK, and these programs need to be shut down.”

After taking a few years to distance herself from that time in her life, Robison is now an editor and producer for Breaking Code Silence — a movement, led by activists, advocates and survivors, to raise awareness on institutional abuse.

“It is not just drug abusers, it is not just juvenile offenders — these are children with ADHD, these are kids with autism, these are kids that are gay and are being sent away for conversion therapy,” Robison said. “These are all children, foster children, rich kids, poor kids, black kids, white kids, it’s all kids.”

Robison said she knows she wasn’t the first victim, but she hopes the platform Hilton created will help propel the movement forward.

“The only thing that saved my sanity was thinking about who I wanted to become when I got out of there,” Hilton said in the trailer.

“There are so many people behind [Hilton] who have had the same experiences — not just in Provo Canyon School, but everywhere in this country,” Robison continued. “[People] can come to understand, this is bigger. This is much bigger.”

Now that Hilton has spoken out on the alleged malpractice, Robison said Breaking Code Silence plans to reintroduce legislation on a federal level to hopefully create stricter laws for facilities in Utah, and create reform for the industry across the board.

FOX 13 reached out to Universal Health Services, but they have not returned the request for comment.