Congresswoman Opens Up About 'Terrifying' Fallout of Nude Photo Leak & Affair Allegation — but Why She's Not Hiding
"I made it through because the people who love me most dragged me back into the light," she said, "and reminded me that I was stronger than that"
When nude photos of California Rep. Katie Hill were published on two conservative websites last week, along with the allegation that she’d been having an affair with a staffer, the 32-year-old said she ensconced herself inside her apartment and wept.
“I went to the darkest places that a mind can go, and I’ve shed more tears than I thought were possible,” Hill said in her final speech on the floor of the House of Representatives, on Thursday, before her official resignation from Congress.
“Ever since those images first came out, I’ve barely left my bed,” she said. “I’ve ignored all the calls and texts. I’ve hidden from the world, because I am terrified of facing all the people I let down.”
Hill, who had been a rising star in the Democratic party, announced her resignation Sunday after the publication of the nude photos on conservative blog RedState and British tabloid The Daily Mail, along with alleged details about her sexual relationships.
Both outlets reported that she’d been in a consensual three-way relationship with a female campaign staffer and her now-estranged husband (she has admitted being involved with the campaign worker, calling it “inappropriate”).
“Clearly there is an inherent power differential between Congresswoman Hill and a young campaign staffer who worked for her, but there’s nothing unlawful about having a relationship with people who work for you as long as it is consensual,” outside attorney Debra Katz previously told The New York Times. “But clearly this shows bad judgment.”
More damaging, RedState and the Mail alleged, citing anonymous sources, that Hill had an affair with her legislative director, Graham Kelly — in violation of House rules. She denied this, though the House Ethics Committee launched an investigation.
Thursday’s Capitol Hill appearance, Hill said in her speech, was the first time she left her apartment since the publication of the salacious photos and allegations of inappropriate relations with staffers.
Hill has suggested her husband, Kenny Heslep, who filed for divorce in July, was the hand behind these reports about her personal life, including the intimate photos and other information such as leaked text messages.
“Enabling and perpetuating my husband’s abuse by providing him a platform is disgusting and unforgivable,” she said earlier this week.
(Heslep did not return PEOPLE’s request for comment; Kelly declined to comment.)
For Hill, it was what she’s called this “revenge porn” driven by “the right wing-media” that led to her stepping down. And it would be fighting against this kind of exploitation, she has said, that will be her next cause.
She was first elected last year, flipping a longtime Republican district in the Los Angeles area.
“I am leaving because for the sake of my community, my staff, my family, and myself, I can’t allow this to continue,” she said in her Thursday speech. “Because I have been told that people were angry when I stood strong after the first article was posted, and that they had hundreds more photos and text messages that they would release bit by bit until they broke me down to nothing, while they used my faults and my past to distract from the things that matter most.”
In her words, what actually mattered was the ongoing impeachment investigation into President Donald Trump.
“I didn’t want to be peddled by papers and blogs and websites, used by shameless operatives for the dirtiest gutter politics I’ve ever seen,” Hill said. The photos of her were taken without her knowledge or consent and distributed “for the sexual entertainment of millions,” she said.
Since their publication, Hill says she’s received thousands of “vile, threatening emails, texts and calls” that have made her fear for her life and whose she cares about.
She also cited the “misogynistic culture that gleefully consumed my naked pictures, capitalized on my sexuality and enabled my abusive ex to continue that abuse.”
“I’m leaving,” Hill said, “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.”
Since she was thrust into the national spotlight, and her professional judgment called into question by the affair allegations, Hill has been defended by some observers as the victim of a double standard that does not always apply to male lawmakers — and, they said, she was uniquely punished by the spread of her naked photos, separate from the ethics investigation.
In her speech, Hill apologized to her supporters and those she represents, saying that she “fell short” of their expectations.
“And to every little girl who looked up to me — I hope that one day you can forgive me,” she said. “The mistakes I made and the people I’ve hurt that led to this moment will haunt me for the rest of my life.”
It was in the people closest to Hill who have given her the strength to continue on.
“I made it through because the people who love me most dragged me back into the light,” she said, “and reminded me that I was stronger than that.”
In her final official act, on Thursday, she said she voted “to move forward with the impeachment of Donald Trump on behalf of the women of the United States of America.”