The resignation of Rep. Katie Hill was the talk of Capitol Hill this weekend, but you wouldn’t know it from the glaring lack of public statements by women’s rights groups or Hill’s fellow Democrats. Even two years after the explosion of the #MeToo movement, Hill’s unique case proved too complicated for many anti-harassment advocates to address.
Hill—one of a record number of women elected to Congress in 2018, and one the first openly bisexual representatives in history—resigned her seat Sunday after the House Ethics Committee opened an investigation into allegations that she had an affair with a congressional staffer. Hill has denied that but admits to engaging in a three-person relationship with a campaign staffer and her then-husband.
Hill claims the now-estranged husband was involved in the publication of nude photos of her in conservative news outlet RedState, complicating what could have been a straightforward story about an elected official’s alleged abuse of power. Some women’s rights advocates said the leak and publication of the photos amounted to revenge porn, the distribution of someone’s nude images without their consent.
Hill also leaned in to this narrative on Sunday, vowing to pursue “all of our legal options” against those who had “weaponized” her personal images.
“Those of you who know me personally know that I’m a fighter,” Hill wrote in a letter. “Now, my fight is going to be to defeat this type of exploitation that so many women are victims to and which will keep countless women and girls from running for office or entering public light.”
A chorus of voices on social media protested Hill’s resignation, with many suggesting she was being held to an unfair standard because she is a woman or because she is bisexual. Some pointed to Rep. Duncan Hunter, who was indicted for misappropriation of campaign funds—allegedly to finance affairs with two Republican congressional staffers. Hunter has not resigned.
Others pointed to President Donald Trump, who has been accused of sexual harassment or assault by more than 20 women.
“Donald Trump has sexually harassed or assaulted dozens of women,” tweeted Jenna Lowenstein, deputy campaign manager for Cory Booker’s campaign. “Katie Hill had, as far as we know, some consensual relationships and an ex with an affinity for revenge porn. Don't let anyone tell you men and women are held to the same standards.”
Others compared Hill’s resignation to that of Al Franken, the Democratic senator who resigned last year over allegations of sexual misconduct. Some said the allegations—groping in Franken’s case, and what appeared to be a consensual relationship in Hill’s—were insufficient to warrant resignation. (“The injustice here is so over the top,” tweeted Shaunna Thomas, founder of women’s rights group UltraViolet.)
Even some Republicans jumped to Hill’s defense. Republican Rep. Matt Gaetz called the Ethics Committee’s investigation “absurd” and suggested that the only person with a complaint was the congresswoman’s “soon-to-be ex.” Heather Nauert, a former State Department spokesperson and current White House staffer, said that Hill would not have resigned if she were a man.
“I appreciated her willingness to reach out to both parties to discuss/debate policies,” Nauert added.
Many of Hill’s fellow Democrats, however, were silent on the issue. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi released a short statement acknowledging Hill’s “great contribution to the Freshman Class” but adding that the congresswoman’s “errors in judgment” made her continued service “untenable.” None of the women in Hill’s notoriously Twitter-friendly freshman class spoke out publicly.
One Democratic staffer attributed the silence to lawmakers’ indecision around the issue, telling The Daily Beast that the addition of the revenge porn angle “makes it, for lack of a better term, messy.”
Carly Mee, a senior staff attorney for the victim’s rights organization SurvJustice, said women’s rights groups faced the same challenge.
“The hesitation is that in my opinion, is the nuance that she both was wronged and did something wrong,” Mee told The Daily Beast. “It comes from an inability to say that someone can be hurt and can also hurt others. Someone can victimized and also be a victim.”
“We like to think of that as really black and white—you're a victim or you’re a perpetrator,” she added. “And it’s uncomfortable to say you can be both.”
Campus anti-rape group Know Your IX—one of the few organizations that commented publicly—emphasized this dichotomy, tweeting that allegations of Hill’s inappropriate relationships came “after a campaign of harassment and revenge porn from an abusive ex-husband.”
“We need to talk about both pieces,” the organization tweeted.
Jaslin Kaur, a student engagement organizer for Know Your IX, told The Daily Beast the group was troubled by the allegations against Hill, but that she should have been able to admit to them “on her own terms.” The leak of Hill's private information and photos, she added, was a “textbook case” of abuse and manipulation.
“It just really shows that you can comply with investigations, you can still do everything to promote progressive cause, but you will still be vilified because your abuser has the power to turn world against you,” Kaur said.
Hill’s husband did not reply to a request for comment.
After publication, the National Organization for Women responded with a statement saying Hill had been “slut-shamed” and “run out of office based on rumor and innuendo.”
Mee, meanwhile, compared the discussion about Hill to that around Asia Argento, the Weinstein accuser who was subsequently accused of sexually assaulting a teenager. She said many anti-rape advocates were silent about the later accusations at the time, because they simply “didn’t know what to do about it.”
But in order for the #MeToo movement to move forward, Mee said, advocates need to learn how to address these multifaceted issues.
“We just have to be consistent and not remain silent, because part of changing the culture around this is acknowledging the complexity around it,” she said. “It’s a very common thing for there to be overlap, and we do a disservice to this work if we don't acknowledge that.”