The story of Katie Hill is one that is all too familiar to many teen girls across America. A cruel and repeating cycle that makes victims of innocent girls and women of all ages.
First, nude or sexually explicit photos are taken. Then, they are shared with an individual based on an understanding of trust and confidence. Yet, when this understanding is broken, it leads to more than a shattered relationship. Out of anger or retribution or even entertainment, deeply personal images are spread without consent. Reputations are smeared beyond repair and the victim? She is likely to be subjected to increased sexual attention and harassment. But worst of all, it would not have happened if the victim was male.
On Oct. 27, following a revenge porn controversy, freshman Rep. Katie Hill resigned. In her address to Congress she said the following:
“It is with a broken heart that today I announce my resignation from Congress. This is the hardest thing I have ever had to do, but I believe it is the best thing for my constituents, my community and our country…I’m leaving, but we have men who have been credibly accused of intentional acts of sexual violence and remain in boardrooms, on the Supreme Court, in this very body and worst of all, in the Oval Office…as my final act I voted to move forward with the impeachment of Donald Trump on behalf of the women of the United States of America.”
Her resignation followed a series of personal challenges and scandals. She was a party to a messy divorce. She and her husband engaged in a sexual relationship with one of Hill’s campaign staffers. Nude photos of Hill, including a photo of her with a marijuana bong and another showing an iron cross tattoo, were leaked to the media without her consent. Prior to her public humiliation and consequent resignation, Hill was known for being a policy advocate for People Assisting The Homeless (PATH), raising $1.2 billion to fight homelessness in L.A. Throughout her career she has refused to take money from corporate political action committees, and campaigned strictly on money from individual contributions and donors. But today, Hill is no longer remembered for her work on behalf of the homeless. A simple google search of “Katie Hill” reveals an abundance of auto-fill words such as nude photos, bisexual, scandal, relationship, campaign staffer and divorce.
The Katie Hill scandal, aside from its tawdry lure, is something that must spark a wider societal discussion about its importance. While her conduct was by no means appropriate, the ways in which the scandal was covered are even more troubling. She was penalized for conducting herself in a manner which male representatives in the same position would have escaped punishment for. She faced intimidation, threats and unbridled shaming by those who used vulnerabilities in her life for cynical political purposes.
The ways in which this scandal is different from the many sex scandals concerning men in politics is also important. Overall, the Katie Hill scandal teaches us three important lessons: First, we expect too little from our elected representatives and when they disappoint us they should be replaced; second, the double standard is very much alive and real, women in politics are unfairly held to a higher standard than men; third, the media is complicit in slut shaming women and its lack of morality in this respect is toxic for a society that values justice.
Although, we have allowed the bar for our politicians to sink as low as it is, does not mean we should. We should wholeheartedly support the raising of our bar for people in public office. However, our support must only come if the bar is equal, equal for people of all races, religions, ethnicities, sexualities and gender. I do not have much faith, considering that the bar has never been equal, which is why we must call attention to the double standard even when it may be disguised as the all righteous equal bar.
In order to reach a society in which equity exists and the double standard is smashed, we have to stop lying. We have to stop disguising the double standard and stop masking it with ulterior excuses and reasons. We must call out the lying. Katie Hill was not pressured to resign because of the leakage of her nude photos. She was not pressured to resign because of her deemed “inappropriate” relationship with a campaign staffer. She was pressured to resign because she is a woman. Pretty extreme, huh? Well it is true.
Here is why—the leakage of nude photos was not Hill’s fault. The fact that she had those photos is no crime, and therefore should not be penalized for it. In an America that values “real people” in leadership, in an America that is uninterested in yet another “politician,” an incident as common as the leakage of nudes should add to Hill’s popularity not destroy it. However, only of course, if this applies to men and women politicians (which it clearly does not). The other reasoning told to justify Hill’s resignation is her former “inappropriate” relationship with a campaign staffer. Hill had a consensual relationship with a 22-year-old female staffer. While it is true that she broke the new prohibition of relationships between members of the House and employees, this is the first time this prohibition has been enacted. In addition, like Hill said, “I’m leaving, but we have men who have been credibly accused of intentional acts of sexual violence and remain in boardrooms, on the Supreme Court, in this very body, and worst of all, in the Oval Office.” she is right. Her “inappropriate,” yet completely consensual relationship was more heavily punished than most of the credible sexual violence perpetrated by men in the supreme court, the House and Oval Office.
Without some context of previous politicians involved in sex scandals the inequity of Hill’s pressured resignation is not nearly as obvious. Between 2010 and 2019 Eric Massa, Mark Souder, Chris Lee, Anthony Weiner, Scott DesJarlais, David Wu, Vance McAllister, Blake Farenthold, Dennis Hastert, Donald Trump, Tim Murphy, Joe Barton, John Conyers Jr., Trent Franks, Pat Meehan, Jim Jordan and Brett Kavanaugh were elected to public office and either before, during or both were involved in a sex scandal. However, unlike Hills’s sex scandal many of these included sexual harassment, assault or rape. In addition, the men in many of these cases, were not convicted, let alone pressured to resign. This context serves as an unveiling, of the major role the double standard played in Hill’s resignation.
One of the major factors solidification of Hill’s resignation was the non-consensual leakage of her nudes by RedState. Hill claims that the nudes were sent to RedState by her ex-husband as an attempt to humiliate and further abuse her. This abusive behavior was then rewarded by the publication of Hill’s nudes in RedState and then many more publications. The shaming of Hill for having nude pictures and the attack made by RedState and all publications who further leaked her photos sends two impactful messages to teens. The first message it sends is shame and blame to all the victims of revenge porn or merely the exposure of nudes. The second and more destructive message it sends is that the vicious act of exposing someone’s nudes is not only just ok but will be rewarded. One of the great and many powers of the media is the setting of social norms and trends. It outlines what is acceptable and what is not. In a way, we expect the media to serve as society’s moral compass, calling out the “wrongs”. What happens when the media is doing the “wrong”? RedState leaking Katie Hill’s nudes was an example of this. In the past few years, in the new “fake news” era, the media has lost so much credibility. Must it lose its integrity and mortality too? These questions about the media’s power and role in society and the detrimental messages that were sent to teenagers from Hill’s scandal were my other main takeaway from this mess.
Furthermore, in Judaism, we are taught that public humiliation stands among the worst of sins. When King David had his affair with Bat-Sheva, he was publicly shamed for it. This spurs a deeper conversation in the Talmud about sin regarding public humiliation. In the texts it is referred to as “whitening the face of another.” According to the Talmud, the concept of public humiliation is considered always morally lower than the cause for humiliation. Public humiliation and exploitation were instrumental pieces to Katie Hill’s story. While Hills actions can be deemed inappropriate and “low” according to the Talmud, RedState’s leaking of her pictures, and therefore public humiliation of Hill, is more wrong. Whether RedState or Hill committed more of a “sin” is irrelevant. However, Hill has been heavily penalized for her actions, while RedState has gotten nothing but attention and praise. As a society we must not overlook the immorality of an institution even when it distracts us with the “immorality” or deemed wrongdoing of someone else. RedState did not simply call out Hill’s misconduct. RedState humiliated and exploited Hill to the furthest extent that they could. We cannot allow RedState to avoid the spotlight of moral judgement.
Katie Hill’s scandal was a first for America. It was not a first in regard to sex scandal in politics, or even the leakage of nudes. However, it was the first because she is a woman. While we have experienced this over and over with male politicians, we have never had a female politician involved in a sex scandal like Hill’s. In some respects, maybe this is part of reaching a higher form of equality and wider representation in public office. However, we must not be blind to the societal issues that this scandal unveiled and think about how to better react publicly moving forward.
Please note that the opinions in this piece are presented solely by the author, and neither Fresh Ink for Teens nor its partners assume any responsibility for them.