Since I resigned from Congress, I’ve gotten used to my phone blowing up whenever another politician is accused of sexual misconduct. Supporters want to know, “How can this person still be in office but you’re not?” Reporters ask, “How does it make you feel that so-and-so refuses to resign?” My mom just says, “I love you and I hope you are doing okay,” because she already knows the answer.
The messages stop after a few days when the accused men defiantly stay in office or quietly decide not to run for reelection. The press, the public, and the politicians themselves move on to things like the behavior of Joe Biden’s dogs.
I am always advised by those closest to me not to weigh in on these situations. If I say anything whatsoever, people like Ben Shapiro will inevitably share it with a comment: “Sexual predator Katie Hill says what?” or, “Shouldn’t you be naked smoking a bong or nailing some staff?”
That’s when the trolls start reposting the pictures of me that were shared without my consent.
Last week’s scandal, which centers on a Justice Department investigation into allegations of possible sex trafficking of a minor, also involves accusations of the same crime of which I was a victim: the nonconsensual sharing of intimate images. And in a twist of irony, the accused person, Matt Gaetz, is one of the few colleagues who came to my defense when it happened to me.
Matt and I served on the House Armed Services Committee (HASC) together. It’s one of the last places in Congress with any semblance of bipartisanship. On one of the early days, I got lost, as freshman members sometimes do. Matt found me in the hallway and showed me to the hearing room where we were about to be briefed by top brass at the Pentagon. He said that in the previous term, he had no idea where anything was either, joking about how he was no longer the youngest one on the committee. He told me that he was the least popular Republican on HASC because he believed in climate change and was anti-war.
When I was first elected, I went on Fox News sometimes because it was by far the most watched cable-news channel in my district. Matt and I sometimes ended up in the greenroom together, back when you actually went to the studio for TV hits instead of appearing via Zoom from a corner of your kitchen. We’d frequently run into each other on the way to or from votes and have brief conversations.
The Armed Services Committee is responsible for one of the few must-pass bills each year: the National Defense Authorization Act, which governs the hundreds of billions the U.S. spends annually to maintain the most powerful military force in the world. One day a year, committee members and staff stay through the night in what’s called a markup to debate and vote on dozens of proposed amendments to the base bill, and ultimately pass a package that can go to the full House. Our markup was on June 12, 2019, the day that would have been my ninth wedding anniversary. But the weekend prior I had flown home, asked for a divorce, and moved my things to my mom’s house. I knew what that might mean for me and my career, but I had no choice. I was a new congresswoman with a personal shitstorm brewing and no idea what to do about it.
I was a wreck. I held it together for the markup, barely, but spent a lot of time in a room off to the side that served as a break room where members could rest, eat, or talk to each other away from the C-SPAN cameras as the night dragged on. Matt must have noticed something because he asked me what was wrong. Liz Cheney dozed nearby while I told him about the divorce, though not what might be coming because of it—not even I knew then that, somewhere, a trove of photos of my naked body existed.
In the other room members were taking turns shouting into the microphones about immigration. The bill was stalled because Donald Trump wanted to put hundreds of millions of dollars through the defense bill into building his border wall. The newly empowered House Democrats were saying no, and the Republicans didn’t like being back in the minority. At one point I said to Matt, “So what is it with you and Trump? You don’t really believe that stuff, do you?”
“Well, you gotta give the fans on Fox what they want, but I do love Donald Trump,” he said. “I don’t think I want to be in Congress after he’s done as president.”
I stared at him blankly and shook my head in dismay. But I was still grateful for the company.
Our collegial (and unlikely) friendship continued throughout my time in Congress. We rarely agreed on policy and we never agreed on Trump, but as two young people of the same generation serving in Congress on the same committee, we got along and often chatted about life and shared experiences. On many occasions Matt had told me about the younger brother of an ex-girlfriend, Nestor, whom he referred to as his son and said he’d adopted when his ex disappeared years ago. He seemed proud of the kid and said he wished he could talk about him publicly, but didn’t want to expose Nestor to the shitty world of public scrutiny. I didn’t blame him.
Fast-forward to October 2019, when the worst outcome I had feared when I left my marriage came true. People across the world were seeing images of my naked body, many of which I hadn’t known were taken and none of which I had consented to share. I was the victim of nonconsensual pornography, also known as intimate-image abuse or revenge porn. But the photos also showed that I’d had a relationship with someone who had worked on my campaign. A relationship that was inappropriate, though not illegal, and that I never should have engaged in and never would have outside the context of an unusually close-knit campaign and a crumbling marriage. I was labeled an abuser by many, which was especially hard to take as someone who has been abused herself.
The people I had worked with and cared about didn’t know how to engage with me, either directly or publicly. Some of my colleagues offered support privately, but didn’t want to make a statement because of the potential political backlash. Most said nothing, waiting to see how the scandal unfolded. The silence from my own Democratic colleagues was deafening. I was devastated, though I understood. People were nervous. And no one wants to defend an abuser.
Meanwhile, Republicans were having a field day. Then, suddenly, the golden boy of Fox spoke up for me. Matt was the first member of Congress who publicly and unapologetically defended me, saying that while I might have made mistakes, I was a victim in this circumstance. At one of the darkest moments of my life, when I was feeling more alone than I ever had, Matt stood up for me—and that really mattered.
Matt and I corresponded a bit throughout 2020. I was horrified by his ongoing support of Trump and I told him so. We also talked about writing our books, which came out around the same time, and about the election.
When Matt did publicly talk about his son, Nestor, and was attacked, I was upset by it. The way their relationship was characterized, based on what I knew from Matt and his family, was gross and unfair. I felt like I needed to return the favor he had done for me. I got a ton of heat for defending him, as I’m sure he did when the situation was reversed. But at the time it felt like the right thing to do.
Later Matt attacked Florida Democrat Andrew Gillum on Twitter, and I called him and said the way he did it was bi-phobic and bullshit. We argued on the phone. Eventually Matt backpedaled somewhat, but we didn’t talk much after that.
Once Trump lost and Matt started perpetuating Trump’s dangerous lies about the election results, our occasional texts stopped altogether. When Matt doubled down after the January 6 insurrection, I questioned how I could have ever considered us friends. But in difficult times, sometimes the unlikeliest people support you.
Now disturbing information has come out that the Justice Department is investigating Matt’s alleged relationship with a 17-year-old girl, possible sex trafficking, and more. Matt has denied the accusations. As the press requests started coming in, I ignored them (as usual) and hoped that the investigation would ultimately clear him.
But then CNN reported that Matt had shown at least two lawmakers photos and videos of naked women. The women on his phone likely had no idea that the nude photos and videos they’d either privately shared or that he’d taken (with or without their consent) were being passed around and ogled by Republican congressmen. If true, Matt had engaged in the very practice he’d defended me from.
Sharing intimate images or videos of someone without their consent should be illegal, plain and simple. It shouldn’t matter if it was done to hurt someone, as with revenge porn, or to brag about your sexual conquests, like Matt has been accused of doing. In fact, I’ve spent the last few months advocating for a bill called the SHIELD Act to be included as part of the Violence Against Women Reauthorization Act, which just passed the House and is headed to the Senate. If enacted, it will become a federal crime to knowingly distribute an intimate visual depiction of someone without their permission.
While we don’t know enough to determine whether what Matt allegedly did would constitute distribution, this legislation clarifies that it’s a crime whether you intend to hurt someone or not by sharing their images. Even if he was just showing off and meant no harm to those women, it’s still unacceptable. Unfortunately, Matt voted against the bill.
As my phone blows up this time, the usual messages are replaced with ones like, “What do you think of your friend Matt Gaetz now?” and, “So that’s why he was nice to you when your shit went down.” Some people say once again, “How is he not resigning when you had to?”
There are moments when you learn that someone you’ve considered a friend has done something abhorrent. You have to decide whether to stick by them, stay silent, or speak out against them. Many lawmakers have been in this position, but regular people face the same dilemmas in their own lives. Like when a buddy shows you the private pictures of the hot girl he’s sleeping with. Or you find out that a colleague you like and respect has had an inappropriate relationship with a subordinate. Sometimes it’s a tough call. But sometimes it’s not.
Let me state it as clearly as possible: If, despite his denials, Matt Gaetz did have sex with a minor, if he did provide girls and young women with drugs and money and gifts in exchange for sex, if he did ask these girls and young women to recruit other women for the same purpose, and if he did show his colleagues images of nude women without their consent, he needs to be held responsible. Some of these actions are criminal and some of them should be. All are morally reprehensible and unacceptable for a lawmaker.
If there is even a fraction of truth to these reports, he should resign immediately.
When the news about Matt Gaetz broke, my mom once again called to ask if I was okay. She knew about our friendship and didn’t like it. From the very beginning she’d told me to be careful and not to trust him. When he defended me, she raised her eyebrows and told me I’d better not sleep with him (I did not, for the record).
“Yeah, I’m okay,” I replied. “I just don’t really know what to say. I really hope it’s not true.”
“I’m sure it’s true.”
“Jeez, Mom, why??”
“Because it’s always true. Hopefully this time a man actually takes the fall.”
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