When a Sonoma city councilwoman opened an email that included private photos of her in a costume at a music festival, her heart sank. The anonymous email threatened to release the photos and other proof of accusatory behavior unless she dropped her November re-election bid.
Rachel Hundley, 35, was working from home earlier this month when an email from an unfamiliar address pinged in her inbox, the Daily Mail reported. The sender accused her of “immoral and unethical” behavior and included a link to a website titled “Rachel Hundley Exposed,” which contained photos of the lawmaker in a bra and underwear at Burning Man, the famous art and music festival celebrated annually in Nevada.
The now-disabled website also included allegations of “lascivious, drunk and drug-addled behavior” and made mentions to her stance on divisive issues while she was mayor of the city. Hundley has called the tactic of the sender or senders — the email was signed “Sonoma Citizens for Peace and Cooperation” — as an attempt to “slut-shame” her into dropping out of the race, according to the Daily Mail report.
“I was stunned,” Hundley said, as quoted by the Washington Post.“It’s 2018. I thought we’d gotten past this.”
Instead of giving into the fear, Hundley chose a different strategy. She posted a video online addressing the extortion attempt and responded to the “spineless individuals” who created the website.
“I am here today to tell my faceless bullies that I cannot be shamed into quitting because I am not ashamed,” she said in the video.
Hundley goes on to confirm that she had attended Burning Man for several years where she often worked serving Sonoma wines at a well-known wine bar associated with a “consent-focused sex-positive theme camp.”
“What was especially disturbing in this era of #MeToo was the attempt to slut-shame me for celebrating my body and for my attendance at Burning Man,” she continued.
Hundley’s response tactic is actually an effective one, the Washington Post suggests. Women in the U.S. are running for public office at record numbers, a pattern met by equally rising cases of harassment and smear tactics to try to tarnish their reputation. When victims of the attacks respond, the tactic often has the opposite effect, sparking outrage and increasing support for the candidate, the publication reported.
Before choosing to go that route, Hundley consulted advisers and close friends, many of whom suggested she ignore the threats, the Post reported. But she decided to address it head-on by posting a video on YouTube, which has garnered more than 14,000 views so far.