Editorial: Katie Hill faces double standard in sex scandal


Faye Sadou | TNS

While resigning, California Rep. Katie Hill promised a legal fight over leaked private photos.

By The Pitt News Editorial Board

Women in the public eye face a different kind of scrutiny than their male counterparts do — especially when it comes to their appearance and expressions of sexuality.

This is the reality of modern American society that women like Katie Hill, former congresswoman from California, know all too well. Hill recently came under intense public scrutiny when certain news outlets published intimate photos of her with a former campaign staffer. This ultimately led to her resignation — just 10 months after unseating her district’s incumbent candidate. The media’s handling of Hill’s photos are a form of victim-blaming that reinforces the double standard surrounding men and women’s expected expressions of sexuality.

Hill’s case is somewhat complicated. She has been accused of having an affair with her congressional legislative director — a violation of House rules — which she denies. But she does admit to having had a sexual relationship with a campaign staffer, something not illegal as per House rules. The photographs released by Red State and The Daily Mail had to do with the consensual relationship that she admits to having and recognizes as inappropriate, yet doesn’t itself constitute grounds for resignation.

On the other hand, there are plenty of men in power who have stayed in power following allegations of actual crimes. President Donald Trump has had more than a dozen allegations of sexual misconduct brought against him. Rep. Duncan Hunter, R-Calif., allegedly had numerous affairs with his staffers and faces criminal charges for using campaign funds for dates with them. Both of these men and many more remain in office, while Hill resigned. She cited a double standard and fear for her own safety as reasons for her resignation.

“I am leaving because of a misogynistic culture that gleefully consumed my naked pictures, capitalized on my sexuality and enabled my abusive ex to continue that abuse, this time with the entire country watching,” she said.

The way that media outlets picked up the photos, allegedly from her estranged husband, and used them in such a sensational, harmful fashion not only makes Hill a victim, but also has threatened her safety. She is the victim of revenge porn, which is when materials like photographs and private text messages are intentionally released by a sexual partner to cause distress. Revenge porn is illegal in several states, including California, and has been found to have devastating effects on victims’ mental health that are very similar to those resulting from sexual assault. The photos and the extreme backlash they’ve prompted have led to many death threats in an attempt to terrorize Hill.

“I am leaving because of the thousands of vile, threatening emails, calls and texts that made me fear for my life and the lives of the people that I care about,” she said in a farewell speech. “Today is the first time I’ve left my apartment since the photos taken without my consent were released, and I’m scared.”

Hill, a woman, is scared for her life and has been forced to resign because of a sexual relationship that, while arguably immoral, was not nearly as damning or concerning as allegations of sexual assault that have been leveled against men who are not compelled to resign. This intense scrutiny and victim-blaming is what women face when the public is confronted with a side of them that they don’t expect to see.