Rep. Katie Hill pursuing 'legal options' after being targeted with revenge porn

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Hill announced her resignation over the weekend amid accusations she engaged in inappropriate relationships with her subordinates.

Rep. Katie Hill, a freshman Democrat representing a district north of Los Angeles, offered her resignation this past weekend, after intimate photographs of Hill and one of her former campaign staffers were published on a conservative site without her consent.

Hill has since vowed to pursue all legal remedies for the leak, which Hill suggested her "abusive husband" may have been behind. Hill offered no proof to back her claim that her husband, whom she is currently divorcing, was behind the leak.

"It is with a broken heart that today I announce my resignation from Congress," Hill said in a statement Sunday. "This is the hardest thing I have ever had to do, but I believe it is the best thing for my constituents, my community, and our country."

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Hill said she was resigning so that those close to her "will no longer be subjected to the pain inflicted by my abusive husband and the brutality of hateful political operatives who seem to happily provide a platform to a monster who is driving a smear campaign built around cyber exploitation."

On Oct. 18, salacious photos of Hill and a former campaign aid were published without her consent on a far-right website. Hill admitted to and apologized for having an inappropriate relationship with the campaign staffer.

The site also claimed that Hill had been involved with a congressional staffer, Graham Kelly, who currently serves as Hill's legislative director. The site did not offer any proof to back that accusation and there is currently no evidence that the congresswoman ever engaged in an inappropriate relationship with Kelly.

It is against House ethics rules for a member to engage in a sexual relationship with a staffer or a staffer of a committee on which that member serves.

The House Ethics Committee has opened an investigation into that allegation.

In her resignation letter, Hill said she would fight to stop the type of exploitation she is facing, as a result of her intimate photos being posted online.

"Having private photos of personal moments weaponized against me has been an appalling invasion of my privacy," she said, adding that so-called "revenge porn" — sharing someone's explicit photos without their consent — is also illegal.

"[W]e are currently pursuing all of our available legal options," she added.

Hill said that her "fight is going to be to defeat this type of exploitation that so many women are victim to and which will keep countless women and girls from running for office or entering public light."

As Quinta Jurecic of Lawfare noted last week, the political weaponization of such "revenge porn" marked a troubling development in the history of U.S. politics. "While anyone can be a victim of nonconsensual pornography, the practice is often used to harass and control women," Jurecic wrote. "This is an ugly line to have crossed ... The United States has not historically had a culture in which political media outlets publish nude photographs of opposition politicians for sport."

The Human Rights Campaign's Charlotte Clymer added Sunday that Hill's resignation should be recognized as a biphobic act. "This is heartbreaking and a reminder that women in elected office are held to entirely different standards than their male colleagues. The horror of revenge porn and the cruelty of biphobia will not get nearly as much discussion as they deserve," Clymer wrote.

Hill was one of the first openly bisexual women ever elected to the House of Representatives.

As Clymer noted, several Republican men have indeed been credibly accused of sexual transgressions and still serve in elected office. Rep. Duncan Hunter (R-CA) was accused in a court indictment earlier this year of having a sexual relationship with a staffer and multiple lobbyists, though he has denied the allegations, saying they are part of a partisan "smear campaign."

In 2012, Rep. Scott DesJarlais, an anti-choice Republican and doctor from Tennessee, also admitted to multiple affairs with patients, encouraging at least one to get an abortion. DesJarlais at the time claimed God had "forgiven" him for the affairs and asked constituents to do the same, saying he had no plans to resign his seat.

Hill was part of the historic 2018 freshman Democratic class, one of the most diverse in U.S. history, and was one of 35 House freshman women elected in the midterm election, 34 of whom were Democrats. She defeated Rep. Steve Knight, a loyal Trump supporter who backed both the Republican health care plan and the 2017 tax reform law.

Hill quickly rose in prominence among her colleagues. She served as vice-chair of the House Oversight Committee and was often an outspoken critic of Trump's "highly suspicious" behavior.

Hill's district has been leaning increasingly Democratic in recent years, and Hillary Clinton received more votes in the district in 2016 than Trump. In 2018, Hill won by 9 points. In the wake of her resignation, one election expert still give the district a "Lean Democratic" ranking.

Several high-profile Democrats are considering running for Hill's seat, including Alex Padilla, California's secretary of state. Assemblywoman Christy Smith also announced on Monday that she would be officially launching a bid for the seat.

Published with permission of The American Independent Foundation.