Ex-intern sues Idaho lawmakers for harassing her after rape

·4 min read
FILE - Former Idaho state Rep. Aaron von Ehlinger glances toward the gallery during his rape trial at the Ada County Courthouse on April 27, 2022, in Boise, Idaho. A former legislative intern is suing von Ehlinger who was convicted of raping her and one of his colleagues for releasing her name and launching a harassment campaign. The young woman, who uses the pseudonym "Jane Doe" in the federal lawsuit, was just 19 when she reported that then-Rep. Aaron von Ehlinger raped her at his Boise, Idaho, apartment in March 2021. (Brian Myrick/The Idaho Press-Tribune via AP, File) (ASSOCIATED PRESS)

BOISE, Idaho (AP) — A former Idaho legislative intern is suing a lawmaker who was convicted of raping her and one of his colleagues for publicly releasing the teen's identity and launching a campaign of harassment against her.

The young woman, who uses the pseudonym “Jane Doe” in the federal lawsuit, was just 19 when she reported that then-Rep. Aaron von Ehlinger raped her at his apartment after the two had dinner at a Boise restaurant in March 2021. The Associated Press generally does not identify people who say they have been sexually assaulted.

In the lawsuit, Doe says von Ehlinger and then Rep. Priscilla Giddings, both Republicans, retaliated by publicly releasing her name, encouraging media outlets to publicize it, and lying about her. She is seeking unspecified monetary damages, according to her lawsuit.

“Because of the release of Ms. Doe's identity, Ms. Doe has continually suffered public humiliation and harassment on social media and at public events,” Doe's attorneys, Erika Birch and Guy Hallam, wrote in the lawsuit.

Giddings did not immediately respond to a request for comment. It is not clear if von Ehlinger has an attorney to represent him in the lawsuit; his criminal public defender did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

Since 2017, at least 120 state lawmakers in 41 states have faced public allegations of sexual misconduct or harassment, according to an Associated Press tally. Of those, 48 have resigned or been expelled, including a Pennsylvania lawmaker accused of sexual harassment who submitted his resignation this week. Of the others who have been publicly accused, 45 have faced some sort of repercussion such as the loss of a committee chair or party leadership position. Most of the allegations were brought forth after the #MeToo movement sparked a public reckoning for people in power accused of sexual wrongdoing.

In the Idaho case, Doe contends Giddings and von Ehlinger conspired to violate her rights, invade her privacy and inflict emotional distress against her. The lawsuit also includes defamation claims against Giddings, who said disparaging things about Doe, as well as claims of assault and battery against von Ehlingher.

The efforts by Giddings and von Ehlinger caused injuries including “extreme and ongoing emotional distress,” Doe's attorneys wrote in the lawsuit.

Some of von Ehlinger's supporters have continued to disparage Doe on social media and at public events in recent months. One man has repeatedly attended public and political events dressed in drag as a beauty queen as a way to mock Doe, wearing a sash bearing the young woman's real name and the phrase “Miss Idaho Capitol.”

The investigation into von Ehlinger began March 11, 2021, after Doe reported the assault to her supervisor at the Idaho Statehouse and to Boise police. Her report triggered an ethics investigation into von Ehlinger, who resigned before the full House could vote on whether to remove him from office. It also triggered a criminal investigation and in 2022 von Ehlinger was convicted of rape and sentenced to up to 20 years in prison, though he could be eligible for parole as soon as 2030. During the investigation and trial, von Ehlinger maintained he and Doe had consensual sexual contact.

Giddings was also censured by the Legislature's ethics committee after her actions in the wake of Doe's rape report came to light. She served out the remainder of her term and ran for lieutenant governor, losing in the 2022 Republican primary.

On April 16, 2021, Von Ehlinger and his attorney David Leroy were asked to keep Doe's name secret by Doe's lawyers and by the ethics committee, according to the lawsuit. Giddings, who apparently helped von Ehlinger craft a news release about the ethics investigation, also spoke with both Leroy and von Ehlinger that day, according to the lawsuit.

Just after 3 p.m. that day, von Ehlinger sent several journalists a copy of von Ehlinger's formal response to the ethics investigation without redacting Doe's name. Giddings then reached out to one newspaper reporter to see if he planned to write about the statement.

Before the end of the business day, a far-right news website published a post with Doe's real name, a photo of her as a younger teen and personal details about her life. Giddings then posted a link to the post on her Facebook account, along with the image of Doe as a minor. Giddings publicized the information again the following day, sending it out as part of a “Legislative Update” email to her constituents, referring to Doe using a derogatory term.

Another far-right website also published Doe's name by printing a picture of the unredacted response that had been sent out by von Ehlinger's attorney.

Doe is asking a judge to award her monetary damages in an unspecified amount, as well as interest, attorney's fees and other court costs.

Neither Giddings nor von Ehlinger have filed a response to the lawsuit.

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Associated Press correspondent David A. Lieb contributed from Jefferson City, Missouri.