Illustration for article titled Katie Hill Says Revenge Porn Is Misleading By Design
Screenshot: ABC

Former Congresswoman Katie Hill doesn’t regret resigning from her post in October, following an orchestrated leak of several nude photos accompanied by accusations that she had relationships with staffers. But Hill hesitates to use the phrase most often used to describe her: a victim of revenge porn.

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In an interview with ABC’s George Stephanopolous, Hill told her side of a long, layered story that originated as sordid gossip in the pits of Right-Wing Internet before imploding and, ultimately, ending the California Democrat’s congressional career.

It began in October 2019, when RedState published a series of articles about Hill’s love life. The first claim was based on the Facebook posts of Hill’s estranged husband, Kenny Heslep, who Hill was in the midst of divorcing: Heslep accused Hill of having an affair with her legislative director, a violation of House rules. RedState later published another article claiming Hill and Heslep were in a relationship with a woman who worked on Hill’s congressional campaign; that story included a nude photo of Hill that quickly made the rounds in right-wing circles. RedState followed this up with another round of leaked text messages between Hill, Heslep, and the campaign staffer while Daily Mail published even more nude photos of Hill.

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By the end of the month, the House Ethics Committee announced that they opened an investigation into Hill, based on Heslep’s accusation. Hill denied having an affair with her congressional staffer—and continued to deny this claim in her interview with Stephanopolous—but admitted to having a relationship with a former staffer from her campaign office. The latter didn’t violate House rules, but highlighted an ethical flub that still pains Hill.

“The boundaries were completely different, because you’re truly in the trenches with this very small team,” Hill told Stephanopolous, describing the close-knit, ragtag nature of the campaign. “Where I think I made the biggest mistake was not setting those boundaries from the very beginning.”

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On October 27, Hill resigned, after less than a year in office. The chaos of the ethics investigation and nude photos made her a sympathetic figure to some and a cautionary tale to others. But while Hill is one of the latest public figures to experience the perils of revenge porn, she bristles at the phrase.

“There’s a problem with the term revenge porn because it implies that there’s something to be taking revenge for, right? That the woman maybe did something wrong in the first place,” Hill said. “And pornography also could imply that it was consensual, and it’s not.”

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“Political scandals always explode to some degree, but how much of it is tied to the fact, in your mind, that you’re bisexual?” Stephanopolous asked.

“I think a lot of it is,” Hill said. She added that being a woman is part of it too, as women aren’t often the stars of ‘sex scandals,’ but believes her bisexuality played a large role in the story. “There’s a fantasy element of it. There’s biphobia that is rampant still, and certainly misunderstanding of what bisexuality is. And it’s sensationalizing, right? The headlines are much better than just, oh, ‘Congresswoman Has Affair With a Former Campaign Staffer.”

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Two days after resigning, Hill says she contemplated suicide, a moment she discussed in an intimate op-ed for the New York Times in December. Stephanopolous asked her what changed her mind.

“I knew of all the girls and young women who looked up to me, who saw this happen to me,” Hill said. “If the ultimate outcome was that this destroyed me, and I committed suicide, what does that tell them? That couldn’t be my final story.”

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If you are in crisis, call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 800-273-8255.

Staff writer, mint chocolate hater.

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