Presidential candidate Kamala Harris has defended Katie Hill, the U.S. Representative who resigned after intimate photos of her with a staffer were shared without her consent.
On Monday, Sen. Harris told BuzzFeed News that Hill, a close ally, is a victim of "cyber exploitation," and that the release of the photos was part of a "campaign of harassment and intimidation."
Hill, a California Democrat, announced on Sunday she would be resigning from Congress after it was alleged that she was involved in intimate relationships with a staff members. Hill denied allegations that she was involved with legislative director Graham Kelly, but admitted to a consensual but "inappropriate" relationship with a female staffer, and apologized for it. She has said the leaked censored images showing herself and the anonymous staffer, published on the websites RedState and the Daily Mail, came from her estranged husband, whom she called "abusive."
"It was clearly meant to embarrass her," Harris told BuzzFeed News of the photos. "There’s so much that people do about women and their sexuality that’s about shaming them."
She also said that while she respects Hill's decision to resign and "do what’s best for her and her constituents," the situation exposed a double standard for women politics.
"But, you know, let’s also speak the truth that men and women are not held to the same standards," she said. "I mean, look at who’s in the White House."
After the images were published, Hill said she notified Capitol Hill police of the incident, and that they are investigating the "potential legal violations of those who posted and distributed the photos" without consent. Revenge porn, or nonconsensual pornography, is illegal in the District of Columbia, and punishable by up to 180 days in jail.
"During the final tumultuous years of my abusive marriage, I became involved in a relationship with someone on my campaign," she said in a statement last week. "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."
"But the truth is, distributing intimate photos with the intent to publish them is a crime, and the perpetrator should be punished to the full extent of the law," she continued.
Hill was seen as a rising star within the Democratic Party. She is one of the first openly bisexual women in Congress, and flipped what had long been a red district when she defeated Republican incumbent Steve Knight to represent California's 25th Congressional District. The New York Times reported that she was a "favorite" of House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, who named her vice chairwoman of the House Oversight and Reform Committee, an unusually high-ranking position for a freshman in Congress. After news of her resignation, Pelosi released a statement saying Hill "made a great contribution as a leader of the Freshman Class."
Hill also received a statement of support from Republican congressman Matt Gaetz, who suggested she was being targeted due to her sexuality. "Katie isn’t being investigated by Ethics or maligned because she hurt anyone — it is because she is different," he tweeted last week.
This is just absurd. The only person who seems to have a gripe is @RepKatieHill’s soon-to-be ex.— Matt Gaetz (@mattgaetz) October 24, 2019
Who among us would look perfect if every ex leaked every photo/text?
Katie isn’t being investigated by Ethics or maligned because she hurt anyone - it is because she is different. https://t.co/Czrc2k8z8X
While her relationship with a staffer may be, as Hill said, "inappropriate," she is still the victim of revenge porn — a crime in 46 states as well as D.C.
Harris told BuzzFeed that the release of Hill's photos was a means of "public shaming."
"It just sends a signal to other women that’s discouraging them from running for office," she added.