Why everyone’s talking about Katie Hill

Congresswoman hits out at sexist ‘double standard’ as she quits amid scandal

Katie Hill
(Image credit: Getty Images)

Scandal-hit US congresswoman Katie Hill has highlighted the “double standard” that she says forced her to resign amid allegations of an affair with an aide.

In her final speech on the floor of the House of Representatives, from which she resigns today, the Democrat said: “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.”

However, she also hit out at media outlets that published naked photos of her - including the Daily Mail - which has sparked debate over the “weaponisation” of women’s bodies.

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“I’m leaving now because of a double standard… I’m leaving because of a misogynistic culture that gleefully consumed my naked pictures, capitalised on my sexuality and enabled my abusive ex to continue that abuse – this time with the entire country watching,” she said.

“I’m stepping down, but I refuse 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,” Hill, who has denied the allegations, said in the nearly eight-minute speech, Politico reports.

“The way to overcome this setback is for women to keep showing up, to keep running for office, to keep stepping up as leaders, because the more we show up, the less power they have.”

Allegations against Hill first came to light last week when a conservative blog - and later the Daily Mail - reported that she had had an affair with her campaign finance director, Graham Kelly, and was “in a three-person relationship with her husband and 24-year-old staffer Morgan Desjardins”, iNews says.

In conjunction with the story, the Mail published a series of compromising photos of Hill and purported text messages from her to her husband, and from Desjardins to Hill’s husband, and she was later put under investigation by the House of Representatives Ethics Committee.

The case, which has taken Washington by storm, has sparked fierce debate over the role of mainstream media in the circulation of what some supporters of Hill have called “revenge porn” - something which Stylist says is symptomatic of a “political system still entrenched in male privilege”.

Here’s a look at why everyone’s talking about Katie Hill.

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What happened?

At the mid-term elections in late 2018, Hill upset the odds by winning a Californian seat in the House of Representatives that had been held by Republicans since 1992.

In mid-October this year, the far-right conservative political blog RedState published allegations that Hill was involved in an extramarital affair with her campaign finance manager Graham Kelly, along with a series of nude photos of her. The blog also claimed she and her husband had been in a polyamorous relationship prior to their divorce.

The following week, the Daily Mail published “more explicit photographs of Hill”, The Guardian says, and claimed that she “had a Nazi-inspired tattoo”.

The House of Representatives Ethics Committee launched an inquiry in the wake of the news, a move the paper suggests may be related to rules enacted by the House “at the height of the #MeToo movement in 2018” which “prohibit relationships between members of Congress and their employees”. However, the rules do not cover campaign aides.

Hill denies this allegation and has reportedly asked police to investigate the nude photos being published online, while the committee itself insisted that launching an inquiry does not mean “that any violation has occurred”.

What has the response been?

Hill announced her resignation last Sunday, writing in a statement: “It is with a broken heart that today I announce my resignation from Congress. Having private photos of personal moments weaponised against me has been an appalling invasion of my privacy.

“It’s also illegal, and we are currently pursuing all of our available legal options,” she added. “However, I know that as long as I am in Congress, we’ll live fearful of what might come next and how much it will hurt.”

The case has divided Washington, with Hill’s personal life becoming the continued focus of intense media scrutiny, while her supporters say she has been the victim of a targeted, sexist defamation campaign.

“Hill’s own conduct – tacky, unprofessional, and ill-advised as it was – pales in comparison to what is being done to her, which amounts to a misogynist rightwing smear campaign,” writes Moira Donegan in The Guardian. “The publication of the nude photograph belies any claim RedState and other Republicans may make to being concerned about the ethics of Hill’s conduct.

“Instead, what Hill’s attackers seem interested in is a wholesale discrediting of the congresswoman, complete with psychological abuse, public humiliation, and misogynist cruelty of the kind that is all too common an experience for women, from the most vulnerable to the most powerful among them.”

What’s next?

Despite her resignation, lawyers for the congresswoman have strongly denied the claims and sent a cease-and-desist letter to the Mail that demanded the publication “remove these photos from publication at once”.

In the statement on Sunday, she defined herself as a “fighter”, the BBC says.

“Now, my fight is going to be to defeat this type of exploitation that so many women are victims to and which will keep countless women and girls from running for office or entering public light.”

House speaker Nancy Pelosi said that Hill’s resignation was the right move.

“Congresswoman Katie Hill came to Congress with a powerful commitment to her community and a bright vision for the future, and has made a great contribution as a leader of the Freshman Class,” she said. “She has acknowledged errors in judgment that made her continued service as a Member untenable. We must ensure a climate of integrity and dignity in the Congress, and in all workplaces.”

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