The Utah bill championed by Paris Hilton calling for reform to the state's laws around the troubled teen industry was ceremoniously signed on Tuesday — and the star was there to watch her emotional and hard work pay off.
Hilton, 40, testified against Provo Canyon School — the boarding school whose staff members she has accused of inflicting emotional, physical and psychological abuse on her during her stay as a teenager — in Utah court in February.
The bill passed last month, and there was a ceremonious signing of the legislation by Utah Gov. Spencer Cox Tuesday.
"Ever since my documentary This Is Paris came out last year and I told my story for the first time, I've received thousands of letters from survivors sharing their stories with me," Hilton tells PEOPLE.
"Reading them broke my heart and I made a promise to myself, the children still at these treatment centers, and all survivors that I would continue to use my voice and fight until laws were changed across the country."
"I'm grateful that the State Legislature of Utah has recognized the injustice and mistreatment happening at these facilities, and I'm so glad that this bill being signed into law will ensure more regulation of these centers and protection for children," she says. "We will continue pushing this issue to the federal level so that laws protecting teens and children are made in all 50 states."
In addition to requiring more government oversight to youth residential centers, the new bill prohibits such centers from using sedation or mechanical restraints without authorization, the Associated Press reported Tuesday.
Hilton previously made allegations against the school in the YouTube Originals documentary This Is Paris that premiered in September. The school is now under different ownership.
Since then, Hilton has been advocating against institutions whose staff members allegedly abuse minors.
"I buried my truth for so long," Hilton told PEOPLE exclusively in August 2020 of why she came forward 20 years after her stay at the institution. "But I'm proud of the strong woman I've become. People might assume everything in my life came easy to me, but I want to show the world who I truly am."
The socialite was sent to the boarding school by her parents for 11 months in an attempt to tame her rebellious partying.
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"From the moment I woke up until I went to bed, it was all day screaming in my face, yelling at me, continuous torture," Hilton alleged of her time at the school. "The staff would say terrible things. They were constantly making me feel bad about myself and bully me. I think it was their goal to break us down. And they were physically abusive, hitting and strangling us. They wanted to instill fear in the kids so we'd be too scared to disobey them."
In her February testimony, she said she "was verbally, mentally and physically abused on a daily basis. I was cut off from the outside world and stripped of all my human rights."
When previously reached by PEOPLE for comment on Hilton's allegations, the school responded: "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."
In a second and more lengthy statement issued on Sept. 17, after the release of the documentary, the school said staff does not use "'solitary confinement' as a form of intervention" or prescribe "any drug or medication as a means of discipline."
"We do not condone or promote any form of abuse," the statement continued. "Any and all alleged/suspected abuse is reported immediately to our state regulatory authorities, law enforcement and Child Protective Services, as required. We are committed to providing high-quality care to youth with special, and often complex, emotional, behavioral and psychiatric needs."
If you suspect child abuse, call the Childhelp National Child Abuse Hotline at 1-800-4-A-Child or 1-800-422-4453, or go to www.childhelp.org. All calls are toll-free and confidential. The hotline is available 24/7 in more than 170 languages.
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