Katie Hill Is Suing Her Ex and Two Media Outlets Over ‘Nonconsensual Porn’

A legal expert says the former congresswoman’s suit is broader than a typical ’revenge porn’ case
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Former Santa Clarita Congresswoman Katie Hill filed suit against her ex-husband and the owners of the Daily Mail and the conservative blog RedState right before Christmas for distributing photos of her she argues constitute “nonconsensual porn.”

Hill emerged the age of 30 to unseat a Republican incumbent and flip a red seat blue in California’s 25th Congressional District, only to resign a year later, in October 2019, after nude photos of her were fed to a conservative website and she was accused of having an affair with a congressional staffer. She is accusing her ex-husband, Kenny Heslep, of leaking the photos to GOP operatives who fed the intimate material to the media organizations RedState and the Daily Mail.

Hill has described Heslep as “abusive” and said he threatened her life and even harmed her pets—allegations he has denied. Two weeks ago, a judge granted Hill’s request for a temporary restraining order against Heslep.

California has a “revenge porn” statute that holds people liable for intentionally distributing nude photos of someone without their consent.

Legal experts say Hill’s suit is broader than the standard case of “revenge porn,” where there is a single defendant—typically, a jilted lover or spouse. In addition to Heslep, the lawsuit lists as defendants Mail Media Inc., which owns the Daily Mail; Salem Media Group Inc., which owns RedState; RedState deputy managing editor Jennifer Van Laar; and conservative radio talk show host Joseph Messina.

“It’s creative,” says Doug Mirell, a well-known free-speech attorney in Los Angeles who represented Hulk Hogan in his landmark invasion-of-privacy case against Gawker Media involving a sex tape. “If Heslep is the source of everything and he’s the one who is responsible exclusively for the initial distribution, then everybody else down the food chain doesn’t have liability for this,” Mirell said. “But they are essentially saying all of these conspirators should be treated as the initial distributor.”

Heslep and Hill were estranged and going through a messy divorce when the scandal broke.

As Los Angeles reported last year, Heslep approached Stephen Daniels, host of The Talk of Santa Clarita, a local politics podcast, in September 2019 offering to spill secrets about Hill. (Daniels declined the offer.) Two weeks later, prominent Republican foes of Hill’s were in possession of a cache of intimate photos of the congresswoman.

In mid-October, Joe Messina, the conservative host of a syndicated radio show who lives in the Santa Clarita area, says he notified the National Republican Congressional Committee that he had received what he would later describe in a web post as “700 images, pictures, texts and notes on the escapades of one Katie Hill, both before and after her election.”

Messina published his web post on October 17, but did not include photos of Hill and says he did not share them with anyone. He declined to identify the source of the material.

The next day, some of the photos were published with an article by Van Laar for RedState.com. Van Laar was also one of three authors of the “scoop” the Daily Mail published on the scandal that contained nude images of Hill.

In the 41-page lawsuit, Hill alleges Heslep enlisted Messina and Van Laar to weaponize the intimate photos of Hill to humiliate her and damage her promising political career.

Just days after a judge granted Hill’s request for a temporary restraining order against Heslep, the Daily Mail published an interview with him that included a nude photo of Hill she says was taken without her knowledge of consent. (Heslep apparently took the photo of his wife sunbathing naked in their backyard and posted it on a NSFW Reddit thread.)

In November, Hill’s former seat was won by Republican Mike Garcia, who also won the special election to finish out her two-year term.


RELATED: In a New Memoir, Katie Hill Recounts Battling Through the Scandal that Almost Destroyed Her


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