Heart of LA Democratic Club Statement on the Resignation of Representative Katie Hill
On October 18, 2019, the conservative blog RedState published private photographs and messages obtained by Republican political operatives from an undisclosed source, alleged to be Kenny Heslep, the estranged husband of Representative Katie Hill (CA-25), for the purpose of harassing and intimidating Representative Hill. Other publications, including a British tabloid newspaper that several well-known individuals have successfully sued for libel over the years, joined in on this campaign of personal humiliation by sharing further private photographs and messages containing salacious details of Representative Hill’s personal life, including a relationship with a campaign staffer. Nine days later, on October 27, 2019, under threat of the public airing of further private photographs and messages by malicious actors, Representative Hill submitted her resignation from Congress. As a preliminary matter, the Heart of L.A. Democratic Club echoes the sentiments stated many times elsewhere, that even consensual relationships between candidates and electeds on one hand, and their staffers on the other, are not appropriate. We recognize that an imbalance of power exists in such relationships, which can be particularly damaging to staffers. That we have yet to become aware of a single instance of a man in Congress being held accountable in any way on comparable facts does not change the inappropriateness of the relationship here. We look forward to the day when such a double standard no longer exists (1).
We have much to say, however, regarding the aspects of this saga involving gendered violence perpetrated against Representative Hill via cyber exploitation, which has been woefully under acknowledged. We condemn it, fully and completely.
In 2013, Governor Jerry Brown signed a bill into law that added cyber exploitation (commonly but misleadingly known as “revenge porn”) as a crime under California Penal Code § 647(j)(4). The statute makes it a misdemeanor offense to intentionally distribute images of another identifiable person depicted in a sexual act “under circumstances in which the persons agree or understand that the image shall remain private,” and includes images taken with the consent of the person depicted. A repeat offense may result in increased penalties. California also recognizes a civil revenge porn claim under Civil Code § 1708.85, which creates a private cause of action against persons who intentionally distribute private images depicting an intimate body part of another. While the law applies regardless of the gender identity of the persons involved, the perpetrators are most frequently men, and the victims most frequently women.
A necessary requisite for the full participation of women in our local, state and national politics - the very raison d’être of the Heart of L.A. Democratic Club - is the freedom from having our sexuality weaponized against us. This is especially true for women who do not conform to traditional gender expectations, and particularly members of the LGBTQ+ community. At the heart of this violence perpetrated against Representative Hill is the desire to control, intimidate, and punish her for being “different,” and penalize her for pursuing her ambitions and seeking power just as any man in her position would, unencumbered.
Representative Hill’s service in the House has been exemplary. We are proud to have been early supporters of her 2018 run, and we are proud of all that she has accomplished. While her time in Congress has come to an end, we know that she will continue doing good for the residents of her district and the people of California - and we know that whoever succeeds her will have large shoes to fill.
Now we turn to the future, and doing our part to maintain and build on the gains in the 25th District that were made in 2018. We pledge to do all we can to ensure that this seat remains in Democratic control, and in the hands of a good feminist. Further, we reaffirm the central mission of our club by committing to fight for the rights of all people to live their lives authentically and without fear of retribution.
(1) Regarding a second relationship with a congressional staffer, we note that the source of the allegations is once again Mr. Heslep. Representative Hill has denied these allegations. The House opened an ethics investigation, which has now been rendered moot by her exit.