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Former Congresswoman Katie Hill has filed suit against her ex-husband and media outlets that published revealing photos of her and reported on her relationship with a campaign staffer.
Hill, a Democrat and one of the highest-profile bisexual politicians in the nation, resigned last year as the representative from California's 25th Congressional District after the release of the photos, which included a picture of her in the nude with another woman. She had been a rising star in the U.S. House after being elected in 2018, flipping the seat by defeating homophobic Republican incumbent Steve Knight.
She has acknowledged that she was involved with a woman who worked on her campaign but denied allegations that she was in a relationship with a male congressional staffer; the latter would have been a violation of Congress's ethics rules. She has blamed Kenny Heslep, her then-husband, for making the photos public, and the lawsuit continues the allegations against him.
The suit, filed Tuesday in Los Angeles Superior Court, names Heslep as a defendant, along with Salem Media Group; Mail Media; Jennifer Van Laar, the deputy managing editor of right-wing blog Red State and a contributor to the Daily Mail, both of which carried the photos; and Joseph Messina, host of The Real Side radio program, NBC News reports. Salem Media Group owns Red State, and Mail Media owns the Daily Mail. The outlets broke the law by publishing the images without her consent and caused her emotional distress, the suit says.
"Less than five months after the breakup [of their marriage], naked images of Hill that only Heslep had previously possessed were published globally on the internet, alongside intimate text messages and cruel lies," the lawsuit says, according to the Associated Press. "Media defendants helped Heslep maximize injury to Hill, widely amplifying and publishing deeply private and degrading confidential information and false statements, all supplied by Heslep." It describes the images and information circulated as "nonconsensual porn."
Hill has said Heslep was physically and emotionally abusive, and just two weeks ago she obtained a temporary restraining order against him. It directs Heslep to stay at least 100 yards away from Hill, her mother and sister, and her pets. In seeking the order, Hill said Heslep had choked her until she was unconscious, threatened her with a gun, and abused and even killed her pets, in addition to circulating the photos.
"While I considered filing a restraining order many times over the years, I was always afraid doing so would simply make matters worse," Hill said in a sworn statement requesting the order, NBC reports. "At this point, I am finally seeking a restraining order because I am afraid that he will not give up until I am dead." The order runs through at least December 30, when a judge will hold a hearing on whether to extend it.
Hill and Heslep had been together since 2004 and married in 2010. When they met, she was recovering from a sexual assault and saw him as a protector, she said in a court statement, but his behavior eventually turned controlling to the point of abuse.
In her lawsuit, Hill is represented by attorneys Carrie Goldberg and Ashley Parris. The suit seeks monetary damages but does not specify the amount. Both NBC and the AP sought comment from attorneys for Heslep and the media companies named in the suit but have yet to receive a response.
Since leaving Congress, Hill has published a book, She Will Rise: Becoming a Warrior in the Battle for True Equality, and started a political action committee, Her Time, to support women candidates for office. A film based on the book is in the works, with Elisabeth Moss playing Hill.