Freshman Rep. Katie Hill resigned Thursday in the wake of multiple controversies, including engaging in at least one sexual relationship with a campaign staff member.

Conservative website Red State published intimate photos of the California Democrat on Oct. 18 after they were leaked to the site, sparking a debate about inappropriate relationships and “revenge porn.”

Hill should not have engaged in a relationship with a subordinate while holding public office, and thus should shoulder the blame for that choice. Nonetheless, there’s little the public can do about her personal choices other than to call for her resignation.

There may be more at stake in the other unsettling aspect of this viral story—the publication of her personal nude photos, supposedly leaked by her estranged husband. (He is now claiming he was hacked.)

Hill’s case is complicated. Thanks to the publication of these photos, it’s unclear if the revenge porn or the sex with a subordinate was the main reason she had to resign.

The left has largely ignored Hill’s problematic relationship with a subordinate—despite liberals’ normal assumption that any such action violates standards in the #MeToo era.

But conservatives in turn should not overlook the revenge porn issue.

Many on the left are pointing out that leaking intimate personal photos, in the form of revenge porn, is a crime.

It’s a crime rarely punished, and one that only seems to affect women, especially in an age where everyone has a smartphone and taking “selfies” is the norm.

In her resignation speech Thursday, Hill said she thinks that wouldn’t have happened to a man.   

I will never shirk my responsibility for this sudden ending to my time here but I have to say more because this is bigger than me. I am leaving now because of a double standard. I am leaving because I no longer want to be used as a bargaining chip. I am leaving because I didn’t want to be peddled by papers and blogs and websites used by shameless operatives for the dirtiest gutter politics that I’ve ever seen and the right wing media to drives clicks and expand their audiences by distributing intimate photos … taken without my knowledge let alone my consent for the sexual entertainment of millions.

Politico reported fellow freshman Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, D-N.Y., concurred with the criminal nature of revenge porn and the double standard.

“This doesn’t happen to male members in the same way, revenge porn in this respect. It’s horrific. I don’t think we’re really talking about how targeted and serious this is. We’re talking about a major crime … being committed against her,” Ocasio-Cortez said.

Her liberal politics aside, the New York lawmaker has a point. Forty-six states plus the District of Columbia now have revenge porn laws, so that should rightly give pause to vengeful, bitter “exes.” But sometimes the perpetrators are prosecuted; often, they are not.

The New York Times reported on one such case in California involving a $6.4 million verdict, the largest of its kind. The plaintiff in the case, listed as Jane Doe, sued her ex-boyfriend, David Elam II, back in 2014 for sharing intimate photos she had sent to him during their relationship and posting them on porn sites. Elam also reportedly posted many images to Tumblr and sent her photos to friends and professional associates.

While Elam was prosecuted to the full extent of the law, prosecuting revenge porn takes money and time that many people don’t have. Even if a woman decides to try and prosecute her perpetrator, the immediate effects, as we saw with Hill, are impossible to reverse. The New York Post reported that Hill has hired an attorney and plans to sue over the revenge porn photos.

It’s irresponsible for any outlet—right- or left-leaning—to publish photos of a person for the sole purpose of humiliation and embarrassment. There might be a place for steamy news in the entertainment industry, but surely we can agree, regardless of partisan views, that posting a nude “selfie” of a person without the person’s permission—especially when leaked specifically to exact revenge—does not fall into that category for a political or news organization.

If those inside the Beltway are serious about the #MeToo movement, cracking down on revenge porn would be one way to demonstrate it.

A picture might be worth a thousand words, but in cases like Hill’s, publications should refuse to publish such clickbait, and tell the salacious story, if it’s legitimately newsworthy, via old-fashioned reporting.

Publications aren’t running the photos to reveal a notable person’s questionable character, because a simple factual story would accomplish that. Rather, they are doing it for no other reason than to get clicks.

It’s low-hanging fruit, and it needs to stop.

The effects of publishing revenge porn can harm relationships, end careers, and even devastate the affected person’s mental health.

Paul Larkin Jr., a legal research scholar with The Heritage Foundation, examined the issue from a legal and societal perspective.

Far from being a cyberspace practical joke, revenge porn has generated considerable outrage.

The posting of such images on a website has seriously harmed some victims by leading to a debilitating loss of self-esteem, crippling feelings of humiliation and shame, discharge from employment, verbal and physical harassment, and even stalking.

Those harms are multiplied if, to use the vernacular, the images “go viral” and are repeatedly circulated across the internet and from cellphone to cellphone.

Some young women have committed suicide after being victimized by the widespread distribution of their nude pictures or, in one case, being tormented by fellow high school students.

When one considers the consequences of publishing revenge porn—including engaging in an illegal activity and tarnishing the reputations of nearly everyone involved—it’s clear the practice is indefensible.

The media can’t control poor choices political figures make in terms of public policies, professionalism, or personal relationships, but they can control what they write and what they publish about them, and why.

It’s important to hold our politicians accountable—but when it comes to such intimate photos, the goal should be to avoid public exposure and instead pursue justice through other means.

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Nicole Russell is a contributor to The Daily Signal. Her work has appeared in The Atlantic, The New York Times, National Review, Politico, The Washington Times, The American Spectator, and Parents Magazine.

This article was published on the Daily Signal.

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