Former US Rep. Katie Hill Sues Ex-Husband and Media Companies Over ‘Nonconsensual Porn’

Katie Hill, then a Democratic Party candidate from California’s 25th Congressional district, talks to a reporter on Nov. 6, 2018, after voting in her hometown of Agua Dulce, Calif. (AP Photo/Marcio Jose Sanchez, File)

(CN) — Former California Democratic Congresswomen Katie Hill, whose promising political career unraveled in 2019 after she was accused of inappropriate relationships with staffers and various media outlets published nude and sexually graphic photos of her, said in a lawsuit filed Tuesday that the world is watching her ex-husband’s “revenge vendetta.”

Hill, who unseated an incumbent Republican as part of the 2018 “blue wave” at the age of 32, claims in the suit filed in Los Angeles that her ex-husband, Kenneth Heslep, orchestrated her political downfall with the right-wing news blog RedState and the British tabloid the Daily Mail after she tried to end their relationship.

In a 34-page complaint, Hill describes a tumultuous 15-year relationship where Heslep controlled her appearance and sleep schedule. He choked her unconscious, said he would kill himself if she tried to leave, and posted nude photos of her on dating websites without her consent, according to the complaint.

Hill said that Heslep physically abused her pets and was unsupportive of her run for office, and when she tried to separate herself from him, he threatened to “blow up” her campaign and told her staff and family that she was suicidal and they should commit her.

“Hill lived in fear that if she ever tried to leave, he’d kill them both and all their animals,” the complaint states. 

Despite all this pressure, Hill mounted a grassroots campaign and was able to unseat incumbent Republican Rep. Steve Knight.

But all of that would come crashing down due to Heslep and the media outlets that aided him, according to Hill.

After she took office, moved to Washington, D.C. and ended her relationship, Hill says her ex-husband retaliated against her.

“That’s when Heslep’s scorched earth attack began in earnest,” the complaint filed in Los Angeles County Superior Court states. “Less than five months after the breakup, naked images of Hill that only Heslep had previously possessed were published globally on the internet, alongside intimate text messages and cruel lies.”

Hill resigned amid an ethics probe after she was accused of having an inappropriate relationship with a congressional staffer and the nude photos were published online by the blog RedState. Hill admitted to having an inappropriate relationship with a campaign staffer before she was in Congress but denied having any improper relationship with one of her male congressional staffers.

Images and intimate text messages were first published on RedState on Oct. 18, 2019, according to the suit, and the Daily Mail published sexually graphic images soon after. Hill said Heslep was the only person who had access to these images and she characterizes them as “nonconsensual porn” in the suit. 

“One local Republican operative said he’d been supplied with a file containing over 700 photos and texts which they intended to release bit by bit until Hill resigned from or was forced out of Congress,” the complaint states. “And sure, enough, RedState continued to publish new material on an almost daily basis, for two weeks, until Hill finally stepped down.”

Hill says former Knight campaign advisor Joseph Messina bragged about having 700 images of her in a public blog post. Messina later told the Los Angeles Times that the images were widely shared and he did not need to distribute the images.

Before the images were made public, Heslep shopped around the photos and an interview with a local news podcast, according to Hill but Heslep denied supplying the photos that were eventually shared on right-wing media outlets like the Daily Wire, Breitbart and the Washington Examiner.

Hill says RedState’s Jennifer Van Laar authored the original post that claimed she had an affair with a male staffer. After Hill announced on Oct. 27, 2019, she would resign from office, Van Laar tweeted a link to Republican Mike Garcia’s campaign. Garcia eventually went on to win Hill’s former seat.

Hill says she was at a low point after she left office and contemplated suicide.

“Hill drank a bottle of wine in the bathtub and attempted to slit her wrists,” the complaint states. “The suicide attempt was thankfully not fatal, but the torment continued.”

While Heslep and Hill divorced in Nov. 2020, he continued to try and sell a story to the Daily Mail about Hill’s sexual, medical and financial history.

Less than a week after Hill got a temporary restraining order against Heslep, the Daily Mail published an article with 26 images, including another nude photo taken without her consent and a photo of her with her brother who died earlier this year.

Hill says the First Amendment doesn’t protect someone’s right to sexually degrade and expose public officials or disseminate nude images.

“Deciding who is allowed to see our naked bodies is an essential right,” the complaint states.

“There’s never a way to litigate privacy in our judicial system without amplifying the very invasions underlying the suit, an inevitable hell that Hill has resigned herself to knowing this further public display may have been defendant’s hope all along,” the complaint continues.

While the nude photos and other painful episodes from her relationship with Heslep may become exhibits in the case, Hill said she has no other options to restore her privacy and dignity and that she has already “given up everything” to escape her ex-husband.

“Here we reset the ideas that abuse in a woman’s past should quash their political aspirations and that public sexual humiliation is an acceptable way to vanquish a political opponent,” the complaint states. “This case pleads that everybody, even publicly elected officials and celebrities, is owed the right to sexual privacy and redress from our courts when they experience intimate partner violence.”

Heslep, The Daily Mail’s parent company, Mail Media, RedState’s owner Salem Media Group, Messina and Van Laar are named in Hill’s complaint.

Hill claims intentional infliction of emotional distress, nonconsensual distribution of intimate images, civil conspiracy to distribute the images and violation of California’s unfair competition law.

Ashley Parris from McElroy Parris Trial Lawyers and Carrie Goldberg submitted the suit. 

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