Ahead of the release of the hotel heiress's documentary, "This is Paris," in which she shares never-before-heard details of what she endured, Fox News spoke with six former students and one ex-staffer of the boarding school, who shared their own stories and corroborated the star's claims of either suffering or witnessing physical and mental abuse, including forced medications, beatings, solitary confinement and bullying by staff.
In a recent interview with People, Hilton called the 11 months she attended PCS “continuous torture,” alleging that she was a victim of bullying by staffers and witnessed violent restraints. She left the school at age 18 in 1999.
“I think it was their goal to break us down. And they were physically abusive, hitting and strangling us,” Hilton, now 39, alleged. “They wanted to instill fear in the kids so we’d be too scared to disobey them.”
As of Monday, the school has declined to address the allegations ahead of Hilton’s documentary, telling Fox News in a statement, “Originally opened in 1971, Provo Canyon School was sold by its previous ownership in August 2000. We therefore cannot comment on the operations or patient experience prior to this time."
The school, which defines itself to Fox News as a "psychiatric residential treatment center for youth between the ages of 8 and 18," further stated: "We do not condone or promote any form of abuse. Any and all alleged/suspected abuse is reported to our state regulatory authorities, law enforcement and Child Protective Services immediately as required. We are committed to providing high-quality care to youth with special, and often complex, emotional, behavioral and psychiatric needs."
But in exclusive interviews with Fox News, former students, three of whom attended school at the same time as Hilton, said the socialite's claims are not only valid, they are giving a voice to the silent community of PCS survivors. Thanks to Hilton, many have begun breaking their own silence. Some even have dubbed the hotel heiress a "hero."
Lee Goldman, 33, of Toronto, Canada, attended PCS from 2002-2004. She spoke to Fox News on Sept. 4, the 10-year anniversary of the day she attempted suicide. At that time in her life, she was embroiled in a lawsuit against PCS, which alleged that a staffer at the school sodomized the then-teen as a means to inject a medication against her will. According to court documents obtained by Fox News, the case was dismissed by the Fourth Judicial District Court in the state due to a failure to prosecute.
"Paris coming out about this could make really large changes in the industry as a whole. She's a hero," Goldman told us, adding that Hilton's documentary could force actionable change in the behavioral health industry.
"For many years, many people have tried to expose this industry and tried to shed a lot of light on it and it hasn't been able to gain traction. Someone like Paris to share this kind of story is really brave. This isn't just Provo Canyon School. This is a multibillion-dollar industry and it's been overlooked for many because programs often say the kids are 'emotionally unstable.' With Paris speaking out, it's getting a lot more attention."
The 33-year-old supported Hilton's claims that students were hit by staff in front of others.
"I did experience some of the same abuse," Goldman alleged. "I didn't experience strangling but I did experience manhandling. The school recorded that they had five or six staff members restrain me at once. I'm all of 100 pounds."
Goldman recounted another story told to her by a fellow student, who claimed to have their teeth knocked out during a restraint by a staff member. Another student, Goldman learned, was placed into a medically induced coma at a hospital after staff members denied her medical care at the facility.
All seven individuals who spoke to Fox News recalled PCS' "Dial 9" method. These occurred when students were "exhibiting behavior that's self-harming or harmful to others," one explained. However, the emergency protocol was often abused by staffers, six of the interviewees said.
These often resulted in a student being "tackled" by up to six staffers at once, they explained.
"Whenever I hear someone say 'Dial 9' now, I want to run and hide," a second former student, who attended in 2009-2010, told Fox News. "I was more scared of the staff than the students. The students, I mean, they were amazing."
A former staffer at PCS confirmed this. The staffer, who primarily worked at the boy's unit, said one violent "Dial 9" caused him to become so uncomfortable he quit his job.
"Staff would tackle kids -- I can't tell you how many times I saw that. One incident involved an African American boy at the school during my time. A staff member woke him up at 3 a.m. because he forgot to take his meds. The kid didn't like getting woken up in the middle of the night, and the staff ended up calling a 'Dial 9' and tackled him," the staffer said.
He further claimed: "We all had to go and watch staff pin this kid down, drag him to isolation. The guy who beat him was my boss. This was 100% instigated by staff. A bully picking on a defenseless little kid. I ended up quitting two weeks later."
The staffer, who now works at another Utah school, said PCS staff "100% abused not only the 'Dial 9' authority but abused all authorities given to them."
What's more, the staffer alleged that he nor other mentors during his time there received physical training for restraint of students.
"That’s the root of the abuse – the inadequacy of training and certifications," said the staffer. "The only training we got was a week of orientation, sitting around a desk looking at slides. We didn’t have any physical class about how to restrain and how to not injure."
The second former student, who is now 26, called her experience "a living nightmare." She claims she was once knocked unconscious after falling off her bed while sleeping. She said the school didn't notify her mother until "hours later."
"I suffered a concussion and they didn't do a CT scan," this student emotionally alleged. "They told my mom it wasn't severe as it was. I've got a stutter now because of it that happens in high stress."
Her experience at PCS only improved after her mother routinely questioned staff, but that didn't mean the things she witnessed weren't traumatizing, she said.
"I have definitely seen staff hitting and strangling other students," she continued.
Stefanie Tapley, 38, of Texas, attended PCS at the same time as Hilton. She backed up the star's claims that she was mocked by staff constantly.
"I distinctly remember the staff making fun of Paris a lot. That always bugs me because she was really sweet," Tapley said, adding it was obvious this was due to Hilton's "celebrity status."
She continued: "She was sweet and funny but sad and confused-looking a lot. Everybody was just on eggshells -- either that or they were having a breaking point and being thrown in isolation or tackled."
Five of the students and the staffer interviewed by Fox News highlighted how young and inexperienced the mentors in charge of monitoring the students were.
"I was 23 years old when I was hired as a youth mentor," the ex-staffer said. "Looking back at the pool of employees, they were basically people trying to go through college. Many in their 20s and early 30s."
All seven people interviewed by Fox News also spoke of the facility's "investment" unit, which a fourth ex-student who spoke on the condition of anonymity told Fox News was known as the "punishment unit."
The fourth student, who said she interacted with Hilton on the investment unit, said she had a different experience at PCS, however.
"They weren't abusive and they didn't call names," the fourth alum recalled. "Don't get me wrong, I'm not advocating to throw kids into a cement room by themselves because they throw a temper tantrum. I think a lot of kids should not have been there and a majority of those who were were so medicated. It wasn't appropriate."
A fifth student, who attended PCS during 1997-1999, said she was friends with Hilton. She claimed staffers force-fed the star.
"I gained 30 pounds in there," the fifth student claimed. "If you were to lose any weight at all, they'd make you sit at a table and eat every single bit of what was on your plate. Paris was one of the students who was force-fed."
"She wasn't all ditzy like she's been perceived. She'd go on visits with her parents and go shopping and bring back all these clothes and then give away all her old clothes to everyone else. She was really sweet and really smart," the former alum said.
The former staffer who spoke to Fox News said he was disappointed to see that PCS hasn't addressed the specific allegations that have come to light.
"I think it's an easy cop-out. I don't think there's anything wrong with saying, 'We apologize or we'll look into it,' or saying, 'times have changed and we've implemented this that or the other,'" the ex-staffer said.
Individuals who spoke to Fox News claimed some staffers they remember from nearly a decade ago are still working at the institution. Goldman alleged PCS has changed how it brands itself, thus allowing it to justify some of the more controversial methods.
"They now advertise as a place for seriously emotionally challenged children.T hey've changed to a behavioral health hospital but when we were there it wasn't a huge psychiatric facility. It was only a residential treatment center," she claimed.
Hilton's fellow PCS alums said they were stunned to see the heiress, who has amassed 12.6 million followers on Instagram alone, use the hashtag #BreakingCodeSilence in a social media post on Sept. 2. Breaking Code Silence is a movement created to help other survivors tell their stories and to raise awareness about institutional child abuse around the nation, not just at PCS.
Jen Robison, 31, of Oregon, is a member of the leadership team at Breaking Code Silence. The volunteer reflected on Hilton's recent advocacy efforts, believing that the celebrity's positive use of her star power may lead to a breakthrough.
"We were all thrilled to hear that she knew of Breaking Code Silence and wanted to join that movement by using the tag on her social media pages," Robison told Fox News. "By her breaking her own silence, she's giving a stage for all of these people to share their stories of what happened to them. If this is all that happens, this is a huge thing because these people have been waiting to be heard for decades."
Robison, who attended PCS after Hilton, said she still can vividly recall one female student during her time being "shoved into the ground. Staff rubbed her face into the carpet until her entire face was covered in burns."
Robison said Hilton's documentary and continued advocacy work is just the tip of the iceberg. She believes Hilton can actually provoke real change.
"This is bigger than me, this is bigger than Paris, this is bigger than one child's story. There are thousands of people who have been through abuse like this and it still happens today," Robison concluded. "No matter how anyone has felt about Paris in the past, the people who have been abused by this industry are emboldened by seeing a public face coming forward and verifying that the abuse is real and it’s given other people hope that if they speak up and share their stories and come forward then we might actually change what’s been happening."
If you or a child you know is suffering from abuse, please contact The Childhelp National Child Abuse Hotline at 1-800-4-A-CHILD (1-800-422-4453).