For the first time, a House ethics rule that forbids sexual relationships with subordinates, passed in the wake of the #MeToo movement, has forced a lawmaker out of Congress. But to many observers, rather than drive home a warning about the consequences of sexual misconduct, Rep. Katie Hill’s resignation pointed to the disturbing power of “revenge porn.”

The California Democrat’s announcement Sunday that she would resign comes after the House Ethics Committee opened an investigation of allegations that she was romantically involved with her legislative director — a relationship that would violate House ethics rules and that Hill denied. Hill was also accused of having a three-person sexual relationship with a female campaign staff member and her now-estranged husband, which she admitted was improper.

But the allegations came to light only after a conservative news site and a British tabloid published nude images of Hill without her consent — circumstances that have led many critics to note that Hill is accused of sexual impropriety and is a victim of sexual exploitation.

Hill has acknowledged both aspects of her case, previously saying she knew “even a consensual relationship with a subordinate is inappropriate,” while vowing Sunday to mount a legal fight regarding the leak of intimate photos. She has accused her “abusive husband,” with whom she is undergoing a contentious divorce, of engaging in a “smear campaign built around cyber exploitation,” saying he enlisted “hateful political operatives” to help. The nude photos were published by the conservative site RedState.org and the Daily Mail.

“Having private photos of personal moments weaponized against me has been an appalling invasion of my privacy,” she said Sunday. “It’s also illegal, and we are currently pursuing all of our available legal options.”

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House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) supported Hill’s resignation Sunday, saying that Hill has “acknowledged errors in judgment that made her continued service as a Member untenable.”

But fewer lawmakers have outwardly addressed the problem of revenge porn, or nonconsensual pornography. Rep. Matt Gaetz (R-Fla.) was a notable exception. Last week, Gaetz called the House ethics investigation “absurd,” questioning, “Who among us would look perfect if every ex leaked every photo/text?” He suggested that the real reason Hill was being investigated “is because she is different.” Hill is also one of the first openly bisexual members of Congress.

Jill Filipovic, a lawyer who wrote the 2017 book “The H-Spot: The Feminist Pursuit of Happiness,” pointed out that the dominant focus in Hill’s case appeared to be on the alleged affairs rather than on the revenge porn, which she argued could deter other women from aspiring to public office.

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“It’s important to have consistent standards and say that sexual relationships with underlings are not appropriate, whether the boss is male or female,” she wrote in a Medium essay last week. “But if we care about gender equality and the ability for women to fully participate in the public sphere, the sexualized attacks against Hill are the most pressing matter.”

Other critics noted that Rep. Duncan D. Hunter (R-Calif.) was accused by federal prosecutors in June of using taxpayer money to fund extramarital affairs with congressional staff members and lobbyists. The House Ethics Committee opened an investigation of Hunter’s conduct in September 2018, after he was originally indicted on charges of wire fraud and misuse of campaign money. But despite pressure from some lawmakers to resign, Hunter has remained in Congress. He has denied wrongdoing, and as The Washington Post reported previously, the ethics panel has deferred taking action as federal prosecutors conclude their own inquiry.

The House rule that prompted the ethics panel to investigate Hill’s alleged relationship with congressional staff member Graham Kelly was passed in February 2018, during the peak of the #MeToo movement fallout. For the first time in Congress, the House resolution addressed the improper power dynamics of consensual relationships between members of Congress and their employees by banning any such relationship, while further protecting accusers who come forward with sexual harassment claims.

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At the time the law passed, nine members of Congress had recently resigned or announced their departures amid allegations of sexual misconduct or related impropriety — including one case that also involved leaked nude photos.

Former congressman Joe Barton (Tex.) announced he would not seek reelection in 2018 after a nude photo of him circulated on Twitter and across the Internet, leading to revelations that the Republican, who was then married but separated from his wife, was having affairs with multiple women. In a November 2017 statement, Barton apologized for not using “better judgment,” saying he let down his constituents while acknowledging consensual sexual relationships he had had with other women.

A recording of a phone call Barton had with one woman, obtained by The Post, revealed him telling the woman not to disseminate the explicit photos or else he would report her to the Capitol Police. Some argued that Barton was a victim of revenge porn, while others questioned whether the nude photo he had sent was unsolicited.

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But one notable difference between Barton’s case and Hill’s is that right-wing publications chose to release the photos, especially because they depicted “a politician of the opposing party,” Quinta Jurecic, managing editor of Lawfare, a legal blog, wrote in an op-ed.

“This is an ugly line to have crossed,” she wrote, adding: “The United States has not historically had a culture in which political media outlets publish nude photographs of opposition politicians for sport. It’s also a disappointing irony that this is taking place in a period in which legislatures are increasingly recognizing the harm of nonconsensual pornography.”

According to the Cyber Civil Rights Initiative, 46 states and the District of Columbia have revenge porn laws — and California, Hill’s home state, is among them. Reps. Jackie Speier (D-Calif.) and John Katko (R-N.Y.) also reintroduced bipartisan legislation in May that would federally criminalize sharing sexually explicit images of someone without that person’s consent. Sen. Kamala D. Harris (Calif.), a Democratic presidential candidate, has introduced companion legislation in the Senate.

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Mary Anne Franks, a professor at the University of Miami School of Law who helped draft the first measure against nonconsensual pornography, urged the passage of the bill, known as the SHIELD Act, and spoke out in support of Hill on Twitter.

“One of the many terrible effects of nonconsensual pornography is how it can be used to drive women out of politics,” she wrote. “As we at [Cyber Civil Rights Initiative] have been emphasizing for years, ‘revenge porn’ very often serves as a tool of abusive partners and a means to silence women.”

Hill was elected to Congress in 2018, unseating Republican Steve Knight to become the first woman to hold the seat in California’s 25th Congressional District, near Los Angeles. A spokeswoman for Hill said she is still deciding when her resignation will take effect, while Politico reported that she is expected to leave by the end of the week.

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In the closing of her resignation letter, Hill thanked her supporters for “allowing me to turn my focus to this particular battle right now,” referring to the release of the nude photos.

“Now, my fight is going to be to defeat this type of exploitation that so many women are victims to and which will keep countless women and girls from running for office or entering public light,” she wrote.

Correction: A previous version of this article misstated the name of the Cyber Civil Rights Initiative.

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