Sen. Kamala Harris said Rep. Katie Hill is a victim of “cyber exploitation,” often called “revenge porn,” telling BuzzFeed News she believes the release of Hill's intimate photos was part of a “campaign of harassment and intimidation” that exposed a double standard for women politicians.
Hill, a rising star in the Democratic Party and a close ally of Harris’s, announced she was resigning from Congress on Sunday. Hill was allegedly involved in intimate relationships with multiple staffers. She admitted to one of these relationships and apologized for it.
But the websites RedState and the Daily Mail also published barely censored nude photographs of Hill — images she said had come from her estranged husband, a man Hill 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.”
Cyber exploitation, or the nonconsensual release of intimate photos, is an issue close to Harris. When she was California’s attorney general, she was the first to criminally prosecute the operator of a cyber exploitation website, which allowed thousands of intimate photos to be put online without the subjects’ consent, and she worked with tech companies to find ways to curb the practice.
As a senator, she sponsored a bipartisan bill, which has not passed, making the publication of intimate photographs and videos a federal crime. The bill would require the government to prove “that no reasonable person would consider the shared image to touch on a matter of public concern.”
Harris said Monday she “respected” Hill’s decision to resign from Congress, saying she believed “she has to do what’s best for her and her constituents.”
“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.”
The senator said she had spoken recently with the representative, who was one of the first members of Congress to endorse her presidential run. Harris did not say more about the talk, calling it a “personal conversation.”
She would not comment in detail on the allegations of Hill’s relationships with staffers. “I think there’s no question that she should be given due process, and that she should be respected in this process,” she said.
The senator has argued against the use of the term “revenge porn” to describe the crimes. She told BuzzFeed News that the word “revenge” suggests “that there is a justification” for the actions, and that calling the images “pornography” implies the existence of consent.
Harris said she thought it was clear that the intent of releasing the photographs, in Hill’s case, was “public shaming.”
Additionally, she said: “It just sends a signal to other women that’s discouraging them from running for office.”