Amid allegations of having an improper relationship with a campaign staffer, Democratic Representative Katie Hill stepped down from her position on Thursday, taking the opportunity to deliver a speech criticizing what she called a “misogynistic culture” that forced her to leave. During her speech, Hill pointed out a double standard in the treatment of male and female politicians, observing the hypocrisy of her departure due to a relatively minor offense when much more serious allegations have been levied against male politicians in higher-ranking positions in government. In her final address as a government official, Hill said, “I’m leaving, but we have men who have been credibly accused of intentional acts of sexual violence and remain in boardrooms, on the Supreme Court, in this very body, and worst of all, in the Oval Office.”
Last week, the House Ethics Committee opened an investigation of Hill after allegations emerged that she had violated House rules by engaging in a relationship with one of her male staffers. Hill denied this relationship, but admitted that she had an “inappropriate” relationship with a female campaign staffer. Complicating the story even further, Hill claims that her estranged husband helped spread the allegations, and potentially helped spread nude photographs taken of Hill, making her a victim of so-called “revenge porn.” As such, the circumstances of this story portray Hill both as a victim and as somebody who has committed wrongdoing, leading to a range of interpretations of her culpability in the matter.
On Thursday, the former congresswoman apologized to her supporters for her inappropriate relationship, but also attacked the people who circulated her private images, of which there exist hundreds. “I am leaving because of a misogynistic culture that gleefully consumed my naked pictures, capitalized on my sexuality, and enabled my abusive ex to continue that abuse—this time, with the entire country watching,” Hill said. Despite leaving her position as a representative, Hill vowed to take legal action against those who have victimized her, as she is being represented by the high-profile revenge-porn attorney Carrie Goldberg. On Twitter, Goldberg specifically called out the far-right media for their “audacity to peddle [Hill’s] intimate pictures.”
Hill’s final action in Congress was to vote to move forward with impeachment proceedings against Donald Trump, whom she called out for being credibly accused by multiple victims as a sexual predator. For Hill, the impeachment of Donald Trump represented not only action against his corruption in office and his obstruction of justice, but his abuse of power over women, which has been well-documented, and to which the President has even admitted.
Democrats have struggled with their response to Hill’s resignation; many Democrats in Congress have said nothing at all, whereas House Speaker Nancy Pelosi has said, “Katie Hill’s decision to resign is her decision. She’s an absolutely outstanding young public servant. Regardless of any errors of judgment they have made, it’s shameful that she has been exposed to public humiliation by cyber exploitation.” Representative Alexandria-Ocasio Cortez, who frequently makes headlines for her strong positions on a variety of issues, argued that “a major crime” had been committed against Hill, and that the release of the nude photos by the far-right media and other bad actors would deter young women from running for office.
The allegations against Hill were published first by RedState, a conservative website, which quoted her estranged husband and posted a nude photo of Hill. Later, the Daily Mail published more nude photos of the beleaguered congresswoman. Joe Messina, a campaign adviser to Steve Knight, whom Hill replaced after the 2018 midterm election, told the Los Angeles Times that he had received hundreds of private text messages and nude photos of Hill by email and ordinary mail. Already, Republicans have filed paperwork to run for the seat vacated by Hill’s resignation, including George Papadopoulos, who drew headlines for pleading guilty to lying to the FBI about his contacts with Russia during his involvement with the Trump campaign. Christy Smith, a Democratic state assemblywoman, has also announced plans to run. Though she is stepping down from her position, Hill said that she plans to remain involved in public life, saying that she “[refuses] to let this experience scare off other women who dare to take risks, who dare to step into this light, who dare to be powerful.”