Earlier this week, when Representative Katie Hill announced she would resign from Congress after nude photos of her were leaked as part of a rightwing campaign, some of her colleagues came to her defense, toeing a line that called out the use of revenge porn while also acknowledging that Hill’s relationship with a campaign staffer was a mistake.
That sort of defense should be easy to mount—highlighting the deeply fucked up nature of the revenge porn-driven campaign against Hill while also underscoring that any relationship with a subordinate should be out of bounds. But apparently it’s not quite so easy for House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, who appears to believe that Hill brought all of this upon herself. As Politico reported, she had some things to say about Hill’s resignation during a closed-door meeting. “Our darling Katie. It’s so sad,” Pelosi reportedly said, before appearing to blame Hill’s resignation on the existence of the nude photos to begin with: “It goes to show you, we should say to young candidates, and to kids in kindergarten really, be careful when transmitting photos.”
That Pelosi essentially blamed the victim isn’t exactly surprising. In a statement she released on Sunday, Pelosi neglected to even mention the possible crimes committed against Hill, writing instead that Hill had made “errors in judgment.” And as Politico pointed out, it’s not an opinion only held by Pelosi, but other older Democrats in Congress as well, who “have privately suggested that Hill should have been more careful.” On Thursday, Pelosi repeated that Hill had made “errors in judgment,” and addressed the revenge porn. “It’s shameful that she has been exposed to public humiliation by way of cyber exploitation,” Pelosi said, and then repeated the statements she had made earlier this week. “And I caution everyone that they too may be subjected to that, and to be careful.” She added, “I do say to my own children, especially grandchildren, some of these, I don’t know what you would call them, appearances on social media can come back to haunt you if they are taken out of context.”
Since her resignation, it’s been widely noted that the campaign against Hill was orchestrated by former advisors of Steve Knight, the incumbent Republican who Hill defeated in 2018. And as the Los Angeles Times reported on Thursday, Hill’s estranged husband Kenny Heslep had, in September, begun reaching out to news outlets in an effort to, as one podcaster who declined to interview Heslep put it, “air dirty laundry.” Yet Pelosi has made no public mention of any of this, instead focusing on the need to maintain “dignity” in Congress.
Hill’s other colleagues, particularly younger women in the House, however, have highlighted the dangers of how Hill has been specifically targeted and smeared. “This doesn’t happen to male members in the same way—revenge porn in this respect. It’s horrific,” Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez told Politico, pointing out how Hill’s resignation could deter other young women from pursuing elected office. “I don’t think we’re really talking about how targeted and serious this is. We’re talking about a major crime... being committed against her,” Ocasio-Cortez said. For Representative Rashida Tlaib, Hill’s resignation speaks to how difficult it can be to be one’s “unapologetic self” while serving in Congress. “They’re not ready for people like Katie and I, for people who are different,” she said. (Hill is one of the first openly bisexual members of Congress.) Tlaib added, “We needed Katie here and I hope she changes her mind.”
Update (6:07 p.m.): The story has been updated to reflect comments Speaker Pelosi made on Thursday morning, in which she addressed how Hill has been subjected to “public humiliation by way of cyber exploitation.”