~ AUGUST 2022 ~
Former politician Katie Hill, who resigned from the United States Congress after intimate photos of her were leaked says the scandal has now left her bankrupt.
Katie Hill, a Democrat, represented California’s 25th congressional district between January and November of 2019.
She quit after the publication of private photos, without her consent, amid allegations that she’d had an inappropriate sexual relationship with one of her congressional staffers. Ms. Hill and the male staffer both denied the accusation.
The photos, published by right-wing website Red State and The Daily Mail, showed Ms. Hill smoking a bong naked, kissing a woman, and sitting naked as she brushed a woman’s hair.
She subsequently admitted to having a consensual but “inappropriate” relationship with a 22-year-old female campaign staffer before she entered Congress.
Former US congresswoman Katie Hill. Picture: Instagram
Ms Hill pictured at the Pentagon. Picture: Instagram
In a letter to her constituents announcing her resignation, Ms. Hill alleged that her estranged husband and “hateful” political operatives had orchestrated a “smear campaign” to force her out. She said she was pursuing “all legal options”.
“Having private photos of personal moments weaponized against me has been an appalling invasion of my privacy,” she wrote.
“I know that as long as I am in Congress, we will live fearful of what might come next and how much it will hurt.”
Ms. Hill went on to file a revenge porn lawsuit against The Mail, Red State, two conservative journalists and her ex-husband, accusing them of violating a California state law that bans the distribution of private images without permission from the person in question.
She argued that the First Amendment to America’s Constitution, which protects freedom of speech, did not give media outlets the “carte blanche right” to “sexually degrade and expose public officials”.
Judge Yolanda Orozco, of the Los Angeles County superior court, instead accepted the defendants’ argument that publishing the photos was in the public interest, as they spoke to Ms Hill’s “character, judgment and qualifications” as a member of Congress.
Judge Orozco ordered Ms. Hill to pay about $220,000 to cover the defendants’ legal fees.
“A judge just ordered me to PAY The Daily Mail more than $100,000 for the privilege of them publishing nude photos of me obtained from an abuser,” Ms. Hill fumed at the time, calling the US justice system “broken for victims”.
Ms. Hill’s ex-husband, Kenneth Heslep, has denied her claim that he abused her.
“Today we lost in court because a judge, not a jury, thinks revenge porn is free speech,” the former congresswoman continued.
“This fight has massive implications for any woman who ever wants to run for office.”
Her lawyer, Carrie Goldberg, said the lawsuit’s failure set “a dangerous precedent for victims of nonconsensual pornography anywhere”.
Ms. Hill was ordered to pay hundreds of thousands of dollars in legal fees. Picture: Instagram
Bankruptcy, but ‘no regrets’
That judgment was handed down in April of 2021. Now, more than a year later, Ms. Hill has revealed the dire financial fallout.
“Victims of cyber exploitation are being let down by our legal system, and I have gotten an unfortunately personal look at the damage that can do,” she said in a statement.
“When a vengeful person, political opponents and a global tabloid conspired to take and publish naked photos of me – including those taken without my knowledge or consent – a judge ruled that my naked body was in the public interest, and that I had no right to hold accountable those responsible for this assault to my privacy and dignity.
“I incurred substantial financial loss to fight this case because I believe it was my responsibility to do so to try to protect future victims of cyber exploitation. The consequences for me personally meant that I had to recently file for bankruptcy.
“Still, I don’t regret doing so, despite the severe and lasting financial repercussions of the offensive and just plain wrong ruling.
“We need a federal cyber exploitation law to protect victims who are currently left to personally fight attacks and abuse without a legal system to support them.
“I’m in a different chapter of my life now – being a mum and getting a fresh start – but I will continue fighting this fight on behalf of all victims for as long as I have to.”
Ms. Goldberg, who is still representing Ms. Hill, gave a brief statement to the LA Times.
“It is a broken system where a plaintiff’s sensible use of our legal system to adjudicate fundamental breaches of their sexual privacy can result in such financially punishing consequences,” she said.
Meanwhile, a lawyer who represents the two journalists Ms Hill unsuccessfully sued accused her of trying to “evade responsibility for her errors”.
“The bankruptcy process was not meant to enable privileged politicians with the means to earn revenue evade the natural consequences of their intentional acts. We have questions about this filing, and we will be pursuing them in court,” said Krista Lee Baughman.
Lawyers for the journalists have accused Ms. Hill of trying to “evade responsibility”. Picture: Instagram
‘This cannot be acceptable’
Speaking to MSNBC following the judgment against her last year, Ms. Hill said revenge porn laws across the US were “fragmented”, with 48 states each having their own version. She said there should be a “single, uniform law” at the federal level.
“Revenge porn, in zero circumstances, should be in the public interest and should be free speech,” Ms. Hill said.
“It’s tough. It sucks. And it’s something I feel I have to continue this (fight) for, because most victims do not have the ability or the resources to do so. And it has such big implications for any woman who wants to run for office, and any woman who has a potentially powerful voice or is in a powerful position.”
Anchor Joshua Johnson summed up the court’s judgment that “there’s a prevailing public interest in knowing about public officials” and other public figures which is “different from a private individual”. He asked Ms. Hill “where the line should be”.
“The photos were illegally shared,” she argued, drawing a distinction between reporting the facts of the situation – i.e. that she had a sexual relationship with a staffer – and publishing the private images.
“The facts that came out, the facts that were reported on by every single major news outlet, were fair game. I’m not going to argue that for a second. That was able to be reported on, and every outlet did. But they didn’t show the photos; they didn’t need to.”
She accused the outlets that did publish the images of doing so “purely for clickbait and humiliation”.
“If we’re setting this precedent, that this is OK, then that means any woman who runs for office – and I’m saying women because it’s largely an issue that impacts women – where do we decide the public interest lies?” said Ms. Hill.
“There’s no limitations around it, and that cannot be acceptable, or there will be such a chilling effect on women who will not run because they know that they have a vengeful ex out there, or they have any kind of a history.”