Opinion: Katie Hill Continues to Give Back As She Writes About Surviving Revenge Porn

There is no substitute for the powerful words of Katie Hill in her weekend article in the New York Times about surviving revenge porn. In taking on this cause, she’s showing that it can be done. She is also disempowering the very weapon used against her.

You may recall, Katie Hill was one of the many women who helped to take the House back in 2018. She was a rising star in the freshman class of young Democratic women. Hill was also undergoing the sort of turmoil in her private life that too many women know way too well. She decided to end her marriage. Her ex-husband vowed revenge, leaving her dreading the day he would act on those words.

Eventually he struck by publishing private texts and intimate pictures of Hill on-line – by coincidence as the House was contemplating whether to pursue an impeachment inquiry. Hill resigned amid the fall-out. This past weekend, the New York Times published an article she wrote about her experiences. The article is triggering, so bear that in mind if you decide to read the article in its entirety here.

“In June, my dad came with me to my house. I got my things, moved in with my mom, and didn’t look back. The fear that my husband would ruin me hung over me every day. I knew the risk when I left, but I thought I didn’t have a choice, and despite the threat, I felt better than I had in years.” Katie Hill, Former U.S. Representative.

Odds are if you’re a woman, you either experienced these words or know someone who did. Many woman have said them over several generations for the various things some men have done to “keep us in line” in the home, in the work place, and now in politics.

What’s new is the weapon her ex used: revenge porn. As a woman of a certain age, I actually had to do a bit of research to understand what it is. A very brief definition of revenge porn is exposing intimate texts and/or pictures of an ex- partner on line. In the end, it’s the digital version of domestic abuse, sexual harassment, rape, sexual assault and other things misogynistic men use to gain leverage over women.

It no more has to do with the virtual or alleged promiscuity of the woman than any of those other acts. Though, more likely than not, the woman will be blamed for her alleged sins, while the man gets a pass and might even get sympathy, as has been the case through the ages.

The wrong isn’t in allowing a spouse or significant other to take a compromising picture or in sharing an intimate text with them. The wrong is in using those expressions of intimacy against a former partner or spouse for any reason. In Katie Hill’s case, it’s about vengeance. Her ex sought revenge because she opted to end their marriage.

The men who use these methods believe they have an inherent right to control women, whom they view more as property than as equal persons. They use their physical presence and power in the home in a manner we know as domestic abuse. In the workplace, it’s known as sexual harassment.

As is the case with rape and sexual assault, these are things some men use to assert dominance and power over women. In the same way, revenge porn isn’t about the wrongs of a less than virtuous woman. These acts are different, but they have a comparable purpose: dominance.

Katie Hill’s story shows us that even women with some power are vulnerable to the whims of a man who thinks he has a right to control and dominate her. And if this can happen to Katie Hill, it can happen to most if not all women.

The greatest value of Katie Hill’s article is to show how, as with other abusive behaviors, revenge porn is damaging far past the abuse itself. She tells us things what any woman who experienced rape or domestic abuse can tell you. The nightmare doesn’t end the day the abuse stops. And it doesn’t end after the damage of revenge porn has been done. In fact, the fallout from the damage is just the beginning. Both the trauma and the fall out are a lot to take and can be devastating if you don’t see a future beyond it.

There is a section of Hill’s article where she talks about contemplating suicide, and because it can be triggering, I’m not going to quote it here. But it shows the importance of understanding why disempowering revenge porn is imperative. By putting her experience out there, talking about it, she is taking power back from her ex-husband and she is showing other women there is a way to survive revenge porn.

The reality is that as more women survive it, revenge porn will become less appealing to misogynists. It will cease to be leverage over women.