Another political career has been derailed following allegations of sexual misconduct, but this time, the allegations are against a woman.
On Sunday, embattled first-term California Representative Katie Hill announced her impending resignation from Congress. In a statement, Hill, a Democrat, blamed the scandal that led to her stepping down on her soon-to-be ex-husband Kenny Heslep. “This is what needs to happen so that the good people who supported me will no longer be subjected to the pain inflicted by my abusive husband and the brutality of hateful political operatives who seem to happily provide a platform to a monster who is driving a smear campaign built around cyber exploitation," Hill wrote.
Earlier this month, the right-website RedState published photos of Hill engaged in some PG sex acts with a female campaign staffer, including, bizarrely, brushing the woman's hair while nude. Hill and her now-estranged husband, according to the blog, were involved in a “throuple” with the staffer until Hill left both of them and started boning her legislative director Graham Kelly. The House Ethics Committee began investigating the allegations that she had an improper relationship with Kelly, but any investigation will likely be cut short by her resignation.
Throughout this saga, Hill has denied any relationship with Kelly, but she did admit to being in a sexual relationship with the female campaign staffer, which she also attributed to her husband's alleged abuse. In a letter to constituents released last week, Hill wrote, "During the final tumultuous years of my abusive marriage, I became involved in a relationship with someone on my campaign. I know that even a consensual relationship with a subordinate is inappropriate, but I still allowed it to happen despite my better judgment. For that I apologize. I wish nothing but the best for her and hope everyone respects her privacy in this difficult time.”
Throughout this scandal, Hill has implied that Helsep, her ex, is responsible for this story becoming public. And maybe he is: Although he has not issued any public comment and Hill has provided no evidence that he leaked the photos, the whole thing reeks of revenge porn. Making matters even more complicated, however, RedState also published text messages between the campaign staffer and Helsep indicating that the staffer felt both Helsep and Hill were "toxic" partners to each other and to her. In one message, the staffer wrote to Hill: “I am terrified of pushing back against you or upsetting you. I have seen how you treat Kenny and I think that if I cause any issues, even if I am very worried about how you are acting that very quickly you will decide you don’t want me in your life.”
Regardless of how this information came out—maybe it was the husband, maybe it was the staffer, maybe it was a militant pro-monogamy hacker, we don't know at this point—Hill's relationship with a staffer, which reportedly lasted from 2017 to 2019, clearly violates the House code of conduct. After the emergence of #MeToo, nine federal lawmakers were forced out of office, and in response to this movement, the House clarified rules governing romantic or sexual relationships between House members and staffers in the beginning of 2018. In short, any sexual relationship between House members and staffers were banned, and the first lawmaker to lose her job over violating those rules was Katie Hill, the promising young freshman from California.
The response to this scandal has largely fallen along partisan lines. Writing in the Guardian, Moria Donegan, the woman who is currently being sued for creating the Shitty Media Men list, said that while Hill sleeping with a 22-year-old staffer “isn’t great,” it’s also not as bad as when a man does it. “It’s worth pointing out the distinct ethical position of a woman’s abuse of power in this way from a man’s: when Hill engaged in an affair with a campaign aide, she did not do so in the context of millennia of men’s sexual violence against women, and she did not do so with the reasonable ability to threaten force,” Donegan wrote.
And on the other side of the aisle, you have cries of #MeToo hypocrisy. In the New York Post, columnist Miranda Devine wrote, “you can bet that if Hill, 32, were a man and, God forbid, a Republican, the ‘MeToo’ crowd would show no mercy.” I tend to agree that a man in Hill’s position would be considered a villain more than a victim—even if his dick pics were leaked—but I’m not so sure Democrats are more likely to get away with abuses of power than Republicans, in no small part because we've seen over and over that Democratic voters and lawmakers are more likely to call for immediate action when someone is accused. Al Franken is out of office; Donald Trump is not.
Of course, human relationships are messy and it’s totally possible for Hill, or anyone, to be both a victim and a villain at the same time. Yes, someone leaked nude photos of her, which is a terrible thing to do as well as a crime in many states, but just because Hill is a woman doesn’t mean that sleeping with an underling is okay. By the standards of today, sex between a boss and an employee is verboten, and so it was only a matter of time before a woman got taken down by these rules, too. I didn’t think the first lawmaker to resign after being accused of sleeping with a subordinate would be a 32-year-old polyamorous bisexual from California, but I suppose that’s the nature of equality. Now, if only Donald Trump were held to strict ethical standards, too.