In the last week of October 2019, U.S. Representative Katie Hill resigned her office amid allegations of sexual impropriety.  Hill, a freshman member of congress once considered a rising star in the party, represented a suburban Los Angeles district. She served less than 10 months in the House of Representatives. Although she admits to engaging in some hurtful behavior, her case is far from black and white. It touches on some very topical hot-button issues, and contains telling lessons for our time.              

The conservative news site RedState reported that Hill had been intimately involved with a member of her legislative staff, and also in a three-way sexual relationship with a young campaign aide and her husband. The Congresswoman attributed the release of the information and pictures to Republican operatives who worked for her political opponent and on her husband, Kenny Heslep, with whom she is in the midst of an acrimonious divorce. In addition to RedState, the photos were also published by The Daily Mail, and shared extensively on social media. Subsequently she also received a barrage of threatening messages.  

Initially Hill announced she had no plans to resign. Then, on Sunday October 27th, faced with an ethics committee investigation into allegations that she had sex with a staffer, she reversed her position and announced that she would in fact resign. Heslep, Hill’s estranged husband, apparently also alleged that Hill had engaged in a sexual relationship with her legislative director. Ethics committee rules written in the wake of the “Me Too” fallout prohibit members of the house from engaging in “sexual” conduct with staffers. Hill denies this allegation, although she does admit sexual contact with a campaign aide, a liaison not covered by house rules. 

The House Ethics Committee then opened an investigation into Hill, thereby making a young woman the first member of the House of Representatives to be subject to an investigation for the transgression of the new house rules ostensibly enacted to protect young women. The irony here seems beyond a House of Cards or West Wing writer’s fondest aspirations. 

Hill was a blast of fresh air on the Hill. And it is amazing that, after two     centuries of men treating the political landscape here as a droit du seigneur     playground, that the one ensnared in an ethics investigation about the newrules enacted last year on sexual harassment — barring lawmakers from havingsexual relationships with staffers — is a woman (Dowd, Maureen).

(Courtesy of Stop Street Harassment)

As the above graph illustrates, women are almost three times more likely to be harassed in the workplace than men, and there is surely no need to consult a chart to know that the amount of women who have served in the U. S. House of representatives pales in comparison to the legions of men who have done so. 

The basic outline of this tale is seemingly familiar. Sexual indiscretion has taken down politician after politician. 

From Donna Rice sitting on Gary Hart’s lap during the 1988 presidential   campaign, politicians have long cheated on their spouses — frequently with their   employees — and gotten caught. The figure of the tight-lipped wife standing by    her politician husband as he explains his bad behavior is so commonplace that iteven spawned the plotline for a whole television series (Lerer, Lisa).          

Hill’s story however is one for our times. The leaking of her story via text messages and photos took place at the hands of her husband, whom she characterizes as “abusive” and bent on humiliating her. Supporters are labeling this saga as one of “revenge porn.”  

Revenge porn” is a relatively new phenomenon born of the age of social media. Although in the case of Hill there certainly does seem to be an element of revenge involved, the term can sometimes be misleading. “Nonconsensual porn” (or NCP) may well be a more accurate way to describe it and the fear that it could have a chilling effect on the public service careers, especially of young women is very well founded.

Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, Democratic Representative from New York, and perhaps Ms. Hill’s most widely known fellow freshman in the House of Representatives claims that Hill is the victim of a  “major crime that could deter other young women from running for office (Budryk, Zack).” AOC also said “This doesn’t happen to male members in the same way — revenge porn in this respect. It’s horrific” (Relman, Eliza).” Florida Republican Congressman Matt Gaetz issued the following statement on a well-known social media outlet:

This is just absurd. The only person who seems to have a gripe is    @RepKatieHill’s soon-to-be ex. Who among us would look perfect if every ex          leaked every photo/text? Katie isn’t being investigated by Ethics or maligned        because she hurt anyone – it is because she is different (Gaetz, Matt).

If there is any doubt of the existence of a profound double standard, one need only look 100 miles to the south of Hill’s district where Representative Duncan Hunter, Republican of California is under federal indictment for stealing campaign funds to finance dates with his staffers. In a familiar sounding dismissal Hunter claims this is all “fake news” and a “rigged witch hunt.” He is running for re-election. Selective toleration of this widespread behavior runs rampant, and to the highest levels in U.S. politics. “President Trump has more than a dozen allegations of sexual misconduct against him” (Bennet, Jessica). Indeed, we have all seen and heard the video of the president admitting that he routinely bullies and assaults women sexually, because he can. 

On Thursday, October 31, 2019 Katie Hill delivered an impassioned resignation speech on Capitol Hill. Hill, while taking full responsibility for her actions, decried the double standard apparent on the American political scene today. Hill, also an admitted bi-sexual, was part of a formidable restructuring of the old patriarchy, yet ironically was taken down by it. As more and more people of color, women, and members of the LGBT community rise into positions of political power, it will be interesting to see the effect the leveling of the playing field has. 

“I’m 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,” Hill said. “I am leaving because of the thousands of vile, threatening emails, calls and texts that made me fear for my life and the lives of the people that I care about” (CNN).

In the meantime, George Papadopoulos, former campaign and foreign policy advisor to Donald Trump, who spent time in prison for lying to the FBI, has filed to run for the seat vacated by Hill.

(Courtesy of Sloman, Celeste)

References:

@mattgaetz. “This is Absurd….” Twitter, 24 Oct. 2019, 5:01 a.m., https://twitter.com/mattgaetz/status/1187338202266460165?ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw%7Ctwcamp%5Etweetembed%7Ctwterm%5E1187338202266460165&ref_url=https%3A%2F%2Fwww.businessinsider.com%2Frep-katie-hill-scandal-affair-with-staffer-revenge-porn-2019-10

A National Study on Sexual Harrassment and Assualt. “The Facts Behind the #MeToo Movement.” Stopstreetharassment.org1 Feb. 2018, http://www.stopstreetharassment.org/wp-content/uploads/2018/01/Full-Report-2018-National-Study-on-Sexual-Harassment-and-Assault.pdf. Accessed 2 Nov 2019.

Bennet, Jessica. “The Compicated Case of Katie Hill.” The New York Times 1 Nov. 2019, https://www.nytimes.com/2019/11/01/us/katie-hill-photos-relationship.html. Accessed 2 Nov 2019.

Dowd, Maureen. “Now Comes the Naked Truth.” The New York Times 2 Nov. 2019, https://www.nytimes.com/2019/11/02/opinion/sunday/katie-hill-resigns-millennials-boomers.html. Accessed 6 Nov 2019.

Hill, Katie. “Rep. Katie Hill’s Full Remarks…farewell speech.” CNN Politics 31 Oct. 2019, https://www.cnn.com/2019/10/31/politics/katie-hill-farewell-speech-full-text/index.html. Accessed 6 Nov 2019.

Lerer, Lisa. “The Revenge Porn Debate Reaches Washinton.” The New York Times 28 Oct. 2019, https://www.nytimes.com/2019/10/28/us/politics/katie-hill-revenge-porn.html. Accessed 1 Nov 2019.

Relman, Eliza. “AOC on Katie Hill.” Business Insider 31 Oct. 2019, https://www.businessinsider.com/aoc-calls-revenge-porn-targeting-rep-katie-hill-major-crime-2019-10. Accessed 1 Nov 2019.

Sloman, Celeste, Eliza. “The Terrorization of Katie Hill.” The New Yorker 5 Nov. 2019, https://www.newyorker.com/news/our-columnists/the-terrorization-of-katie-hill. Accessed 7 Nov 2019


Gene Chieffo is retired Army Musician and teacher. He studied clarinet at the University of the Arts in Philadelphia and holds a Bachelor of Science in Music (Clarinet Performance), and a Master of Education degree. A native Philadelphian, he performed with Army Bands all over North America, Europe, and Asia from 1985 until 2005. Upon his retirement from Army Bands, he taught in Philadelphia Area public schools for 15 years. He would like his third chapter to include taking his musical skills to the next level as a freelancer in the Hampton Roads area, publishing an article, or a poem…anything really, and perhaps finally figuring out what is happening inside of his head, and all around him, for the first time.