Katie Hill is rebuilding her life in Washington, this time by helping other women take power

Zach Gibson/Getty Images)Rep. Katie Hill (D-CA) speaks during a news conference on April 9, 2019 in Washington, DC.
  • Former Democratic congresswoman Katie Hill is reintroducing herself to the world after resigning from the House last year after nude photos were published of her with a campaign staffer in October.
  • On Tuesday, Hill released a book, part memoir and part feminist political manifesto, titled “She Will Rise: Becoming a Warrior in the Battle for True Equality.”
  • Hill spoke with Business Insider on Tuesday about her impending revenge porn lawsuit against her estranged husband, her past relationship with a staffer, and how she’s moving forward in Washington.
  • Visit Business Insider’s homepage for more stories.

Former Democratic congresswoman Katie Hill resigned quickly after right-wing media and tabloids published nude photos of her with a campaign staffer last October.

But the 32-year-old Californian, once seen as House Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s protégé, hasn’t wasted much time getting back on her feet. In the nine months since she left Congress, Hill has founded a political action committee to help young women and women of colour run for office, written a memoir, and is launching a podcast.

Her mission these days is to fight the cultural and economic forces that keep women out of positions of power.

“The bottom line is that we need to get more women into office, and I felt like me disappearing wouldn’t help that and, in fact, might hurt it,” Hill told Business Insider during a Tuesday interview from her Washington, DC, apartment.

Hill is also in the process of divorcing her estranged husband, Kenny Heslep, who she alleges leaked the nude photos revealing the couple’s polyamorous relationship with the staffer, making good on his threat to “ruin” Hill after she left him.

Under California’s revenge porn law, it’s illegal to post sexually explicit photos or videos without the subject’s consent and with the intention of causing distress or humiliation. Hill and her lawyer are planning to file a civil lawsuit against Heslep “very soon,” but the process has been delayed both by the pandemic and by Heslep’s refusal to sign the divorce papers.

“I’d love to see him prosecuted,” she said. But she predicted it will be an uphill legal battle.

She sees the injustice in that, too, adding, “It’s pretty telling to me that someone as high profile as I am, who’s got direct access to the US Attorney’s office, who are the ones who have the case – if it’s this hard for me to get the resources for my case to be pursued, it’s so much harder for the average woman who’s going through something like this.”

Hill, who is openly bisexual, denies Heslep’s allegation that she had a separate romantic relationship with a congressional staffer, which – unlike the campaign relationship – would have violated congressional ethics rules. But she cited a House investigation into the alleged affair, which the ex-staffer also denies, as one of several reasons for her resignation.

She also said GOP operatives allegedly involved in distributing the nude photos threatened to release hundreds more explicit images and text messages before she quit.

In her viral resignation speech from the House floor, she condemned what she called a sexist double standard and a “misogynistic culture” that enabled Heslep’s abuse.

“I’m leaving, 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,” she said.

Katie HillGettyHill speaking with reporters on the day she announced her resignation from Congress.

Seeking redemption

Shortly after leaving Congress, Hill considered killing herself.

She details that moment and another near-suicide attempt, along with deeply personal experiences with emotional abuse in her marriage and sexual assault in her newly-released book, “She Will Rise: Becoming a Warrior in the Battle for True Equality.” She says she “still lives in fear” of her ex.

But Hill barely discusses her controversial relationship with the subordinate. She refers to it as a “mistake,” but stops short of characterising it as unethical or an abuse of power.

Hill argued that the circumstances surrounding the relationship with the junior aide, which began when the campaign was in its earliest stages, obscured the power dynamics normally at play in a sexual relationship with a subordinate.

“On the campaign, when we first started and our relationship started, it was so early and it felt so much more like a team of people. We were this grassroots campaign that had no shot, it wasn’t like I was a member of Congress already, it wasn’t like I was even this well-established candidate,” she said. “It was a mistake.”

But, she added, “If I were to look at it in any outside circumstances, then I would say it is unethical, and I can own that.”

Alongside calls for various gender-focused legislation, Hill writes how Heslep isolated her from friends, monitored her personal communications, controlled her finances, threatened her with a gun, and encouraged her to kill herself. Heslep has denied the abuse allegations and claims he didn’t release the nude photos, instead claiming he was hacked.

In a particularly painful thread of the book, Hill reveals that her grandfather, who she was very close with before he died in 2011, emotionally abused her grandmother in many of the same ways Heslep abused her.

But she believes in redemption, including for herself.

“I’m trying to chart my own course on what I think it’s gonna take to earn redemption,” she said. “I don’t think I’m there yet, but I’m certainly trying.”

She considers “acts of service” to be one path and, for now, that means helping open doors for other women, especially in politics. She tells potential candidates concerned about the personal exposure and scrutiny that comes with a bid for public office that “what happened to me is probably the worst-case scenario.”

“So think about that and how you would handle it and if you had been in my position what you would have done,” she said. “If you can work through that exercise, then you will be able to handle whatever it is that comes to you.”

She also sees her forthcoming podcast, in which she plans to expose “the sordid nature of what goes on in Washington,” as another way to expand access to politics.

“The purpose is to really let people see an inside view of how this whole thing works, what’s wrong with it, how we can fix it, and hopefully through that understanding we can mobilize people even more,” she said.

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