“At 4:30 in the morning, two men came into my room, handcuffed, and said: “Do you want to take the easy way or the hard way?” And I had no idea who they were. I thought I was kidnapped,” recalled Paris Hilton.
“I had no idea what they were going to do to me. I didn’t know if they were going to kill me if they were going to do something else. I thought it must be a nightmare. It can’t be real.
“And I had no idea where they were taking me. It was scary and traumatic. I screamed.”
On the Sunday Evening Edition 60 minutesHilton has taken a stand against the $50 billion industry of therapy boarding schools and military-style boot camps in the United States that claims “tough love” is the best way to heal young people’s problems.
The DJ and socialite has recently become the face of a movement against the “troubled teen” industry.
Every year, thousands of children and teenagers are referred to these institutions from all over the world, including Australia. These often secret institutions are largely unregulated, and some have allegedly suffered serious and lasting harm.
Hilton is one of many who claim they were, in effect, incarcerated in a therapeutic hospital, and who spoke of suffering from emotional, physical and, in some cases, alleged s*xual abuse.
Paris claims that at just 16 years old, she became a prisoner in a completely isolated facility, where she was held against her will and subjected to abuse.
“Sometimes they locked the children in solitary confinement,” she said.
“In some of these places, children are tied with zip ties, children are put in dog cages.
“During my stay in these places I was strangled and beaten.
“Every time I took a shower, used the bath, I was watched by men and women.
“I haven’t seen sunlight or breathed fresh air for 11 months. They have deprived me of all human rights.”
She also spoke about the alleged s*xual abuse.
“Sometimes late at night they would come and pick us up and do a cervical exam like every couple of weeks and now as an adult I realize they actually raped us because none of them were even a trained doctor.”
The alleged violence still haunts her.
“It’s weird to think that this was over 20 years ago and it still affects me so much every single day. I have nightmares almost every night.”
An Australian named Emily, who was also sent to one of the schools shown in 60 minutes also a segment.
Now 25-year-old Emily lived in Sydney and was only 15 years old when she was sent across half the world. Her grades deteriorated and her parents divorced.
Her first stop was an orphanage in Utah, where she stayed for 10 weeks before being transferred to her final destination, a school called Monarch in remote Montana, which she described as a kind of hell on earth.
Emily had a similar story to Paris about how her journey began.
“At about three in the morning, two strangers turned on my bedside lamp, and … then I was offered options: the easy way or the hard way,” she said.
“And I asked what was the easiest way, and they said, you know, ‘We walk out the door and get on the plane together.'”
Emily said her time at school was terrible.
“If you even looked at someone wrong, you were forced to dig up stumps,” she said.
“Food was taken away, and for months it was impossible to talk to a single person.”
Worse still was the aggressive group counseling known as Assault Therapy, which essentially turns child against child in order to replicate the trauma of their peers.
“It was a snowball effect where one child would start yelling at another child and other children would join in and it was torture for me to have a group of 15 of your peers yell at you and worse. did this eccentric mentality of the gang go beyond the walls of this room.
“It was encouraged by the school.”
She said she left the school feeling unwell.
“I will always keep in mind, am I the problem?” Emily said. “Am I still a bad kid? Am I evil by nature?
However, there are those who support therapeutic retreats, such as Andy Goldstrom, who has started a podcast and support group to help parents through the process.
“I think you have to put the whole story in perspective,” he said.
“Paris Hilton was the loudest voice in it and got the most attention because of her celebrity.
“She was born in a house where she was used to being spoiled and her parents tried to rein her in. She was sent for discipline. She didn’t like discipline.”
Goldstrom said the treatment of his own daughter Audrey at the shelter convinced him that the industry was doing more good than harm.
At 17, Audrey’s learning difficulties led to anxiety, depression, and bad decisions.
Goldström said he had no choice but to send her away with an escort in the middle of the night.
“She didn’t know what was coming. Making the decision to have your child taken from you in the middle of the night is a big deal, but we were in a very desperate situation and feared for her and our safety,” he said.
“It was done in a very professional manner… it wasn’t an accident. They were experts.”
He continued, “What worries me is that the industry as a whole is not working just because of a few stories that have caused the entire industry to go bad. That’s what I object to. Programs continue to raise the bar.”
When the story of the alleged abuse was told 60 minuteshe replied, “Okay. This is not the conversation I was expecting. I’m just a parent trying to help their kids, trying to help the industry. I’m not being judged here.”
Caroline Cole runs the survivor support group Unsilenced and, like Hilton, is pushing for stronger industry regulation and a bill of rights for young people in care.
When asked if the troubled teen industry has reformed, she replied, “Not at all. I mean, we have reports of horrendous abuse still coming from these institutions a week ago. Since yesterday.
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