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Katie Hill, a first-term member of the House of Representatives from California, resigned after nude photos of her were leaked to media outlets and allegations arose that she had inappropriate relationships with two subordinates.
Hill, who is openly bisexual, admitted to a relationship with a female campaign staffer during the final years of what she called an “abusive marriage,” but denied having a relationship with a Congressional aide — a more serious charge that would constitute a violation of House ethics rules.
Hill said the nude photos published by a conservative website and British tabloid, and the potential that more might be released, were major factors in her decision to resign. “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,” she said in a statement. Releasing intimate images of someone without their consent — commonly known as revenge porn — is illegal in California and many other states.
Why there’s debate
The situation differs from the typical political sex scandal in a number of ways, prompting debate over whether Hill is being fairly punished for her actual indiscretions, or if she's being pushed out by sexist and anti-LGBTQ forces.
While there's broad consensus that having a relationship with a subordinate is inappropriate, the severity of that misdeed — and whether it merited Hill’s departure from Congress — is a source of strong disagreement, especially given the malicious and potentially criminal ways the information became public.
Her defenders point to numerous straight male representatives who have faced similar scandals, only to hold onto their seats, as evidence of a double standard women face when it comes to issues of sexual impropriety and a lack of familiarity that leads queer relationships to be treated as more scandalous.
Hill has said she intends to pursue legal action over the release of the photos. A special election will be held to decide who takes over her seat in Congress.
Having a relationship with a staffer isn’t what pushed Hill out of Congress.
"The truth is that it wasn’t the affair that ended Hill’s time in Congress — it was the explicit photos. More accurately, it was ‘revenge porn’ that killed her career.” — Jessica Valenti, Gen
The misdeeds of women and LGBTQ people are treated differently.
“It’s a reminder both that men aren’t the only ones who can engage in sexual misconduct and that coverage of the issue is just as vulnerable to sexism, homophobia, and biphobia as any other topic.” — Anna North, Vox
Overemphasis on Hill's sexuality clouds the abuse she was a victim of.
“Much of the media coverage surrounding Hill has focused on her sex life; who she did or did not sleep with. The fascination likely stems from the fact that she is LGBTQ and allegedly involved in a polyamorous relationship. But by focusing on her sexuality, an important fact is being lost in translation. Hill is not accused of committing a crime by dating her campaign staffer, but she may be a victim of one.” — Melissa Jeltsen, HuffPost
Anyone in Hill’s position, regardless of gender or sexuality, should resign.
“If Hill happened to have a promiscuous personal life with people not under her pay or in violation of ethics, there’s little doubt that she’d be able to ride out the storm. … But this is, in fact, a #MeToo success story, one that proves that the powerful, even women, can still be held to account.” — Tiana Lowe, Washington Examiner
Abuse dynamics can be complicated.
“We like to think of that as really black and white — you’re a victim or you’re a perpetrator … and it’s uncomfortable to say you can be both.” — Victim rights advocate Carly Mee to Daily Beast
Hill has made appropriate amends for her misdeeds, now she deserves justice.
“I think Hill is doing the right thing. Having an affair with a subordinate is wrong. I think we can say that. I think we can also say that revenge porn is many, many magnitudes worse than a consensual affair. … She resigned, over. Now let’s talk about what happened to her, what she was a victim of.” — Jill Filipovic, CNN
Women are given less room to make mistakes than men.
“[T]he fact that the allegations have already led to her resignation, 10 days after the photos appeared online, is evidence Hill is being held to a different standard than her male counterparts." — Alia Dastagir, USA Today
Hill is showing her commitment to her constituents by stepping down.
Katie Hill was pushed out for all the wrong reasons, but she’s trying to do the decent human thing now. … She’s sparing her constituents the drama of an investigation and grotesque news cycle, realizing that they deserve good governance, not a distracting scandal.” — Monica Hesse, Washington Post
Hill defied societal expectations for women.
“Katie Hill is a not a predator. She is not a rapist or sexual assailant or sexual harasser. Her crime is far worse than that in our society: she is a woman — a bisexual woman at that — who has lived beyond the ludicrous, impossible restraints we put on women’s sexuality, particularly those in the public eye.” — Elizabeth Anora, The Independent
Progressive politicians need to have different standards.
“[I]t won't work for Democrats to abandon their values by allowing their own members to get away with unethical behavior just because that’s what Republicans do.” — Amanda Marcotte, Salon
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Cover thumbnail photo illustration: Yahoo News; photo: Faye Sadou/MediaPunch /IPX/AP