May 18, 2022
Paris Hilton visited the White House and U.S. Capitol last week in an effort to persuade legislators to pass the Stop Institutional Child Abuse Act (SICAA). The proposed federal bill would address systematic weaknesses across multiple agencies and systems that increase reliance on congregate care and subject youth to abuse and neglect, according to Unsilenced.org, one of two survivor-led nonprofit organizations that gathered with Hilton for a press conference on the National Mall in Washington, D.C. on May 11.
Together with the other nonprofit, Breaking Code Silence, Hilton is working to establish a Youth in Congregate Bill of Rights within the SICAA. Said Bill of Rights would:
At the press conference, alongside nearly 200 survivors, Hilton described her traumatic experiences as a teenager at Utah’s Provo Canyon School, which she has referred to as a “lockdown facility.” She cited multiple traumatic incidents, including forced gynecological exams in the presence of male staffers, sleep deprivation, and overutilization of medications such as sedatives.
“Men much larger than me would grab me by my arms, drag me down the hall and physically push me into that 4-by-4 dirty cement room that you see here today,” Hilton said, pointing to a nearby solitary confinement art installation.
“It’s still so difficult for me to speak about all the extremely painful physical, emotional, and even sexual abuse out loud,” she added, holding back tears.
Hilton’s Capitol Hill appearance coincided with the publication of an op-ed piece she penned for USA TODAY. In the USA TODAY piece, Hilton provided numerous allegations based on her time at Provo Canyon School as well as a series of other residential treatment facilities. Such allegations included:
“I remember crying while they held me down. I kept saying, ‘No!’ and asking, ‘Why?’ They just said, ‘Shut up. Be quiet. Stop struggling or you’ll go to Obs,’” Hilton wrote in USA TODAY. ‘Obs,’ as Hilton noted, is short for ‘observation,’ which entailed solitary confinement in a tiny cinderblock room with nothing but a drain and a roll of toilet paper.
“The room was freezing cold, and I was almost naked. I paced until I couldn’t stand up anymore. Then I huddled on the floor and rocked back and forth, forcing myself to think about the life I would create for myself after I got out,” Hilton wrote.
She also noted that the experiences have left her with lasting emotional scars, including post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).
“That experience, and the physical, emotional, and sexual abuse I suffered, led to years of trauma-induced insomnia and complex post-traumatic stress disorder that I and countless other survivors of institutional child abuse have struggled with for years,” she added.
“We must pass the Stop Institutional Child Abuse Act! It is my hope that members on both sides will hear our voice and take action,” Hilton said during the press conference.
ABC News reported that the press conference also included speeches from several other survivors who had been in congregate care facilities, as well as their families, including Nehemiah Wood. Wood, the brother of 17-year-old Naomi Wood, spoke out about his sister’s death from medical neglect at a girls’ facility in Florida that is now permanently closed, according to ABC News. Hilton also made mention of Wood during her speech.
“Naomi’s death is a heartbreaking example of hundreds of preventable deaths due to neglect and physical abuse at the hands of the troubled teen industry staff who claim to care for and provide mental health treatment to over 120,000 youth every year,” Hilton said.
“For too long, our government has allowed these deceptive industries to operate in the shadows without any real transparency or accountability,” she added.
ABC News reported that the Provo School is still currently in operation. In September, however, the school issued a statement to ABC, noting that it had “changed ownership shortly after Hilton’s stint there and could not comment on the situation.” The school also indicated that it did not “condone or promote any form of abuse,” according to ABC. The news outlet attempted to contact the school for further comment but did not receive a response.
Hilton also penned an op-ed which appeared in the Washington Post in October of last year. In that piece, she noted that her parents “fell for the misleading marketing of the ‘troubled teen industry‘ – therapeutic boarding schools, military-style boot camps, juvenile justice facilities, behavior modification programs, and other facilities that generate roughly $50 billion annually in part by pitching ‘tough love’ as the answer to problematic behavior.”
“Congress and President Biden need to enact a basic federal ‘bill of rights’ for youths in congregate care. Every child placed in these facilities should have a right to a safe, humane environment, free from threats and practices of solitary confinement, and physical or chemical restraint at the whim of staff. Had such rights existed and been enforced, I and countless other survivors could have been spared the abuse and trauma that have haunted us into adulthood,” Hilton wrote in October 2021.
Hilton visited Washington around the time of the October op-ed publication in support of the Federal Accountability for Congregate Care Act. The bill is still making its way through Congress, according to ABC News.
Dordulian Law Group’s founder and president, Sam Dordulian, expressed support for Hilton’s work as well as the proposed Stop Institutional Child Abuse Act.
“Practically every other week we hear about another case of school sexual abuse here in California. But this is, of course, a national issue, and I applaud Paris Hilton for having the courage to use her past trauma in a way that will help educate others and hopefully implement such critical legislation to hold schools and institutions accountable,” Dordulian said.
As noted above, the Stop Institutional Child Abuse Act has been proposed in an effort to establish a Youth in Congregate Care Bill of Rights to legally define institutional child abuse and neglect, create essential infrastructure for crucial interagency collaboration to protect youth in care, and encourage states to develop processes that reduce the overall usage of institutional settings.
SICAA is reportedly being “pioneered” by Democratic Representative Ro Khanna of California and Senator Jeff Merkley of Oregon, according to ABC News. However, a post on Breaking Code Silence’s Instagram page indicated that the bill’s introduction was halted this week for lack of sufficient bipartisan support.
“That legislation was set to be introduced to Congress this week, but after consulting with our advisors and sponsors, we’ve come to the difficult decision to postpone the introduction of the federal bill,” Breaking Code Silence wrote. “In today’s political climate, to pass a bill of any kind, it needs to have bipartisan support. Right now, we’re looking to get conservative members of Congress to sign on to our bill.”
According to the organization’s website, Breaking Code Silence is a nonprofit that represents children, youth, and adults who are/were incarcerated in the U.S. troubled teen industry (TTI), a network of privately-owned, powerfully punitive, and often wilderness-based therapy programs, residential treatment centers, therapeutic boarding schools, group homes, boot camps, and faith-based academies.
“Breaking Code Silence is a network of institutional abuse survivors who are/were incarcerated in the U.S. “troubled teen industry” (TTI),” the organization’s website states.
The organization asserts that it “intends to be a vehicle for the TTI-survivor community – ever striving to uplift, organize, and inspire present and future generations, while promoting youth rights and evidence-based alternatives to the troubled teen industry.”
The following statistics and facts related to the troubled teen industry (TTI) have been provided by Breaking Code Silence:
However, despite the troubling statistics above, Breaking Code Silence notes that the possibility of an impending paradigm shift exists.
“Against long odds, BCS has managed to capture the attention space, flip the narrative, and garner sympathy for the plight of institutionalized children and youth in the United States. It seems clear that the punitive tactics and abuses perpetrated by the TTI are out of step with contemporary sensibilities and practices in adolescent mental health. Policymakers, academics, clinicians, and child advocates actively reach out to BCS and view our survivor-led organization as a source of expert knowledge and seek to include our perspectives in reform efforts. We have been presented with an incredibly fortuitous political opening and opportunity to make substantial, durable, structural changes and potentially transform the lives of present and future generations of children and youth in the United States,” the organization’s website states.
The Unsilenced.org mission is to stop institutional child abuse by empowering self-advocates to promote lasting social change, according to the organization’s website.
The organization’s vision entails a world where youth are free from institutionalization and the voices of young people are respected in the development of their own mental, emotional, and physical well-being.
“Our culture is the foundation of our organization and comes to life in everything we do. We strive for a positive and rewarding culture that gives us a motivating sense of purpose. This connects us to our mission in more meaningful ways, which deepens our impact on the community,” Unsilenced.org notes in its Cultural Statement.
The organization also cites specific action being taken in an effort to end institutional child abuse, such as:
Unsilenced.org co-founder Meg Applegate spent four years in Idaho and Montana group treatment centers, according to the Daily Mail. She confirmed that, in addition to Oregon Democrat Jeff Merkley and Silicone Valley Congressman Ro Khanna, Texas Republican Senator John Cornyn has also pledged support for the SICAA legislation.
If passed, the federal law would put an end to the billion-dollar industry that Applegate says “preys on vulnerable families,” according to the Daily Mail. The bill would also stop public funds like Medicaid, Title IV-E, and special education funding from flowing through these types of institutions.
In recent months, Dordulian Law Group (DLG) has posted countless blogs detailing odious cases of school and teacher sexual abuse against children. Perhaps the two most well-known cases involve local California private schools that have been plagued by alleged systemic sexual abuse and misconduct which allegedly occurred over the course of decades.
Those private California boarding schools include:
– Ojai’s Thacher Boarding School Sexual Abuse Scandal: In June 2021, we detailed numerous first-hand accounts from anonymous Thacher School sexual assault and abuse survivors:
“I was raped by an upperclassman boy at a Thacher party. I barely knew him, but he gave me a ride there and raped me while I was too drunk to resist and laughed while he did it. At the time, all I was focused on was surviving this experience on a day-to-day basis, not reporting it. It was only when I got back to school and started to hear stories at munch outs from other girls about him pushing boundaries and being “creepy” that it hit me that my silence might be allowing a predator to continue to assault other girls the way he did me.
Going to the police was incomprehensible … reporting it to Thacher administration felt like the most I was capable of at the time. During my conversation with the dean of students, where I told her the complete story of what had happened, she told me that there was nothing she could do about the situation because it occurred off-campus. For some strange reason she also said that she needed the names of everyone drinking at the party in order to take any action. This made no sense to me, so I did not give up any of these names.
According to her, her hands were completely tied if I was not willing to involve my parents or the police, something I did not feel capable of putting myself through at the moment. It felt like her priority was to ‘contain’ me, as if I was the problem, not the boy who raped me. After what felt like some kind of sick bartering exchange, she eventually agreed to speak with the boy personally and hint to him that the administration was ‘watching’ him and that he needed to clean up his act because it wouldn’t fly in college.
Once she had had this conversation with my rapist, she pulled me aside to tell me that the conversation seemed to have gone really well and that he had even cried in response to her vague hinting about knowing he was assaulting girls. For some reason she really wanted to emphasize to me how much he cried. I left that conversation empty with the realization that Thacher cared more about my rapist’s tears than about my well-being.
Thacher needs an independent body to investigate and prosecute cases of sexual assault amount the student body,” a former Thacher student survivor wrote.
“I am an alumna from Thacher and I felt compelled to respond to the news of sexual abuse. Blossom Beatty was my prefect my freshman year. At our very first munchout [late night ‘food chats‘] she literally told us that the male students, especially the upperclassmen, would ‘probably whip out their dicks’ or give us backrubs and how cool it would be if they paid attention to us. Before the end of my first year at Thacher she was normalizing rape culture. It is appalling to me that she is the headmaster now.
“I wish I had spoken up more back then, but there was a lot of victim blaming and gaslighting going on. I had my own experiences with male students and faculty members who were inappropriate (to put it lightly). On one camping trip I was sexually assaulted by a student and when we got back to campus he bragged about it to some other students, who then told a faculty member, and it eventually it came to my attention. I was interrogated by faculty about the incident and was told that I would be reprimanded for sexual misconduct The student who assaulted me was not punished at all. Thank you for your [Instagram] account. It is about time I told my story.”
“One afternoon my sophomore year, a male Senior faculty member pulled me aside during the middle of lacrosse practice and proceeded to ask me prying and inappropriate questions about the older guy I had just started to see at the time. Since the start of my time at Thacher this teacher made me feel uncomfortable, belittled, and on guard when I was around him. I vividly remember the feeling of my stomach sinking the moment he called me over during practice. I felt stunned and trapped by his interrogation. And I distinctively recall never wanting to have to talk to him while alone again.”
“Hey ladies of CdeP’15, remember when guys in our grade would come up to us freshman year unsolicited, and grab out breasts non-consensually with their hands and say ‘subtle boob touch,’ and we would all laugh? Crazy cuz I would literally punch a guy for doing that to me now. Where was the education on empowerment and feminism (for both boys and girls) when we needed it Because that’s on the administration to teach, not on us to figure out years after we graduate.”
“Teacher was still on the First Class email system during my freshman year, and it allowed for private and group chats. Boys in my class (and one or two not in my class) would log onto each other’s accounts and send me harassing messages about my breasts, which were large. I tried to be ‘cool’ about it. I get ‘what teenage boys are like,’ hormones, etc., but if felt pretty constant and some of it was outright mean. I got maybe 10 messages a month for a while. Apparently me and my breasts were the topic of conversation at many munch-outs, and they told me pretty frankly what was said. I made the mistake of not wearing a bra to formal dinner once, and the boys would not stop laughing at me, to my face, whispering to each other and staring. I was pretty sheltered before Thacher and a lot of this harassment in particular got to me. They made me feel like a freak, and I made excuses for them. A few of the female adults at Thacher were openly hostile towards me, and I never understood why. It would have meant the world to have someone I could talk to, trust, ask questions about what was normal/ok.
I got a breast reduction before senior year. A major, expensive, painful surgery in part because of the harassment. The boys were pretty open about their disappointment, a lot of jokes were made, but I was absolutely treated with more respect after the surgery. I had wanted to go to this school my entire life, and I Was pretty idealistic; I really didn’t expect to be treated like that at Thacher.”
“At our senior party on the day of graduation, I was sitting with a bunch of my friends when we were joined by some others. A guy in my class started rubbing his genital area against my shoulder. I was sitting and he was standing really close to my shoulder so at first I thought it was an accident. I moved a bit to my left away from him, but he just inched closer to me and started grinding on my shoulder/arm repeatedly.”
“My peers who were on this trip with me likely remember this, and if not, I sure as hell never forgot. It was the first horse camping trip for a group of us freshman girls, the very first night. The trip was led by a male horse faculty [member] who was a bit older, and was known for saying … dated… things, for lack of better term. After riding into the campsite, that male faculty, with zero context, commented to me that I ‘have childbearing hips.’ I was FIFTEEN. There is NO situation in which such a comment would EVER be appropriate. I was stunned, and did not know how to react, and if I remember correctly I just left the situation and went to collect some water.
For years I joked about this, but genuinely reflecting on it I am filled with disgust and discomfort and pretend things were ok for the whole trip, and the following three years of riding, always worried about older males looking at me as I rode.”
“My first few months at Thacher, I felt pretty shy and reserved. Although I had a lot of good friends, I felt like that quality prevented me from being open to romantic relationships, and, at the time, it seemed relationships had the power to determine your social status. As a favor, my friends started asking around to find someone that might want to hook up with me. Soon, my Shaphcat flooded with messages from guys. My initial excitement died down when I read things like, “I really like [some other young woman] but I think I need more practice. Will you hook up with me just so I can get more experience?”
Looking back, that’s so messed up. But as a 14/15-year-old young woman, I was excited to be needed in some capacity. Every night I would see random guys. Several times I was sexually violated and abused without consent, but I am still not comfortable addressing those events. I thought that it was all part of the deal. I would return to my dorm, where other girls would flaunt my “mystery lovers” and I continued to play along. I was so humiliated that I served as an object for boys to try new tricks on.
– Cate Boarding School Sexual Abuse Scandal: In July 2021, we posted a blog noting that Santa Barbara’s Cate School was under investigation by the sheriff’s department after reports of sexual abuse and misconduct by a former employee surfaced.
The sheriff’s office launched an investigation into a former employee of Cate School in April 2021 after receiving a tip from a mandated reporter outside of the school. The alleged sexual abuse and misconduct is said to have occurred while the suspect was employed by the elite boarding school.
A statement issued by the Santa Barbara County Sheriff’s Office confirmed that detectives from the Criminal Investigations Bureau and investigators from the District Attorney’s Office served search warrants at the Cate School campus on June 24, 2021. Authorities “sought to gather potential evidence to further the investigation” of these sexual abuse and misconduct allegations, and detectives have “identified several sexual assault survivors in this case – both current and former students of Cate School.”
At the time, the statement from the sheriff’s department noted that the investigation was ongoing, and authorities were “refraining from identifying the suspect in order to protect the integrity of the case and ensure justice for the survivors.”
Some recent Los Angeles-area teacher/school sexual abuse cases worth noting include:
Teacher or school sexual abuse civil lawsuits may be brought in an effort to recover financial compensation for various types of losses endured by survivors. Depending on the circumstances of a childhood sex crime, compensatory damages may be pursued and recovered through a civil claim.
Examples of some common damages that may be secured through a California school sexual assault or abuse civil claim include:
Assembly Bill 218 (AB 218), which took effect on January 1, 2020, tolls (pauses) the statute of limitations on all childhood sex crimes through the end of 2022. In other words, all California survivors of childhood sexual abuse or assault may currently file civil claims seeking financial compensation until December 31, 2022. However, as of January 1, 2023, the standard statute of limitations will resume, and survivors who did not file claims will likely be left without any legal recourse.
Additionally, California AB 218 includes a treble damages clause which gives the courts latitude to triple financial damages awards in cases where a cover-up is proven. For example, if you are a sexual abuse survivor who was victimized through a systemic cover-up (at either an individual or institutional level), and that malfeasance was able to be proven in court, a $10 million damages award could theoretically be increased to $30 million under the AB 218 treble damages clause.
AB 218’s treble damages clause was included in the legislation in an effort to severely punish bad actors who participated in systemic cover-ups, often over the course of several decades. Such cover-ups in organizations including the Boy Scouts of America and Catholic Church have impacted countless innocent survivors, but AB 218 offers all victims an opportunity at justice.
For additional information on California AB 218 and how it offers survivors of childhood sexual abuse an unprecedented opportunity at justice, please visit our recent blog post.
Although children impacted by sexual abuse are currently eligible to file civil claims regardless of when a crime occurred, the statute of limitations is different for adult survivors of sexual violence.
For adult sexual assault survivors, the California statute of limitations on sex crimes allows you to file a civil claim up to 10 years after an incident. Moreover, the statute of limitations allows for a three-year window in civil claims where sexual assaults lead to the discovery of a psychological injury, such as post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).
DLG is a leading California-based sexual assault and abuse firm representing survivors across the United States. We offer clients a unique type of legal representation that includes a four-tiered team of professionals known as the SAJE Team,
Led by Sam Dordulian, a former sex crimes prosecutor and Deputy District Attorney for Los Angeles County, DLG’s SAJE Team is comprised of experienced victim advocates, an in-house licensed clinical therapist, a retired LAPD sex crimes detective, and childhood sexual abuse lawyers who have helped countless survivors secure maximum financial damages awards.
Some of our recent sex crime civil lawsuit victories include:
For a free and confidential consultation regarding your school or teacher sexual abuse civil claim, contact a member of DLG’s SAJE Team today at 818-322-4056. Our sex crime attorneys have helped victims recover more than $100,000,000 in settlements and verdicts while maintaining a 98% success record, and we’re here to fight aggressively on your behalf when you’re ready to take the first step towards obtaining justice on your own terms.
Our law firm in Glendale, CA advocates for victims of sexual assault, injury, employment disputes, and personal injury concerns.