In her final speech on the floor of Congress, the Democratic representative Katie Hill condemned the “double standard” that forced her to resign after she was accused of having a relationship with a staffer and nude photos of her were published online.
“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,” she said.
Hill said she would not “shirk responsibility” for the unexpected and early end to her tenure, but she spoke forcefully about the circumstances that pushed her from office.
“The mistakes I made and the people I’ve hurt that led to this moment will haunt me for the rest of my life and I have to come to terms with that,” she said. “I’ve gone to the darkest places that a mind can go, and I’ve shed more tears than I thought were possible.”
While Hill has acknowledged an affair with one of her campaign workers, she denied allegations of an affair with her legislative director, which touched off an ethics investigation in the House. In her speech she called out the hypocrisy of having a president and other men still in power despite accusations of sex crimes, while she has been forced to step down after being a victim of one.
“We have men credibly accused of sexual assault who are in boardrooms, in the supreme court, in this very body and, worst of all, in the Oval Office”, she said, expressing pride that her final vote as a congresswoman was in support of the impeachment inquiry.
Her husband, Kenneth Heslep, whom she was divorcing, had reportedly been shopping around information about the congresswoman for weeks before images began to surface online.
Heslep later claimed the nude photos published by the Daily Mail and others were leaked after he was hacked and he did not play a role in providing them to the media. The release of the images is under investigation.
In her speech on Thursday, Hill claimed the images were “taken without [her] knowledge, let alone consent”. She has hired Carrie Goldberg, a New York attorney who specializes in litigating revenge porn, to sue over the pictures.
At least 46 states in the US, including California, have laws banning versions of revenge porn – the posting of sexually explicit pictures or video of another person online without his or her permission, with the intention of causing emotional distress or public humiliation.
Goldberg said her firm was investigating who would be targeted for prosecution in the leak and publication of the images.
“Everybody who participated in Representative Hill’s humiliation is on notice that we will track them down,” Goldberg said. “Anybody who continues to share, barter, peddle, sell images of Representative Hill will be found out and be brought to justice one way or another. Whether you are an ex-partner, a political opponent, a publisher, or the Republican National Committee, don’t think for a second you’ll be getting away with destroying a woman’s life.”
Hill said coming to Congress for the vote was the first time she had left her home since the images of her were published online. “I’m scared,” she said. Meanwhile, Democrats are rushing to fill her seat in California’s 25th congressional district, north of Los Angeles. Shortly after Hill resigned, the local legislator Christy Smith said she would run to replace her.
Earlier on Thursday, Nancy Pelosi said she was saddened by Hill’s departure, praising her as an “outstanding young public servant”. The speaker declined to say whether Hill, a fellow Californian, had made the right decision by resigning, only that it was her choice to make.
Pelosi had taken Hill under her wing, plucking her from a historically diverse and female freshman class, a status that earned the 32-year-old lawmaker a position in House leadership and the vice-chairmanship of the powerful House oversight committee, which has played a key role in impeachment.
In a press conference on Thursday morning, before a vote to formally launch an impeachment inquiry into Trump, Pelosi said it was “shameful that she’s been exposed to public humiliation by cyber-exploitation” regardless of any “errors in judgment” she had made.
“Countless women across America have been subjected to this type of harassment and abuse,” Pelosi said, calling it a “profound violation of those women’s rights”.
Some young members of Congress, including Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, have defended Hill. In an interview with Politico, Ocasio-Cortez said the images amounted to revenge porn.
“I don’t think we’re really talking about how targeted and serious this is,” she said.
Matt Gaetz, a 37-year-old Republican congressman from Florida, also defended Hill: “Katie isn’t being investigated by ethics or maligned because she hurt anyone – it is because she is different.”
Meanwhile, Hill said she intended to work to protect other women from violations of their privacy online and implied she may return to politics someday.
“We will not stand down. We will not be broken. We will not be silenced. We will rise, and we will make tomorrow better than today,” she said, before concluding: “Thank you, and I will yield the balance of my time – for now but not forever.”