BOISE, Idaho — A former Idaho legislative intern is suing a legislator who was convicted of raping her and one of her colleagues for publicly divulging the teen’s identity and launching a bullying campaign against her.
The young woman, who uses the pseudonym «Jane Doe» in the federal lawsuit, was only 19 years old when he reported that the then representative. Aaron von Ehlinger raped her in her apartment after the two dined 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 that von Ehlinger and later Rep. Priscilla Giddings, both Republicans, retaliated by publishing her name, encouraging the media to publish it, and lying about her. She is seeking unspecified monetary damages, according to her lawsuit.
«Due to the disclosure of Ms. Doe’s identity, Ms. Doe has continuously 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 representing him in the lawsuit; His criminal public defender did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
Since 2017, at least 120 state legislators in 41 states have faced public allegations of sexual misconduct or harassment, according to an Associated Press count. Of those, 48 have resigned or been ousted, including a Pennsylvania lawmaker accused of sexual harassment who tendered his resignation this week. Of the others who have been publicly accused, 45 have faced some kind of repercussion, such as the loss of a committee chair or party leadership position. Most of the allegations arose after the #MeToo movement sparked a public reckoning with those in power accused of sexual misconduct.
In the Idaho case, Doe contends that Giddings and von Ehlinger conspired to violate his rights, invade his privacy, and cause him emotional distress. The lawsuit also includes defamation claims against Giddings, who said derogatory things about Doe, as well as assault and battery claims against von Ehlingher.
The efforts of Giddings and von Ehlinger caused injuries that included «extreme and continuing 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. A man has repeatedly attended public and political events dressed as a beauty queen as a way to mock Doe, wearing a sash with the young woman’s real name and the phrase «Miss Idaho Capitol.»
The von Ehlinger investigation began on March 11, 2021, after Doe reported the assault to his supervisor at the Idaho Statehouse and to Boise police. His 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, although he could be eligible for parole as early as 2030. During the investigation and trial, von Ehlinger maintained that he and Doe they 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, Doe’s lawyers and the ethics committee asked Von Ehlinger and his attorney David Leroy to withhold Doe’s name, according to the lawsuit. Giddings, who apparently helped von Ehlinger draft a press release about the ethics investigation, also spoke with 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 probe without redacting Doe’s name. Giddings then approached a 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 containing Doe’s real name, a photo of her as a teenager and personal details about her life. Giddings then posted a link to the post on her Facebook account, along with a picture of Doe as a minor. Giddings republished the information the next day, sending it out as part of a «Legislative Update» email to his constituents, referring to Doe using a derogatory term.
Another far-right website also published Doe’s name by printing an image of the redacted response sent by von Ehlinger’s lawyer.
Doe is asking a judge to award him money damages in an unspecified amount, as well as interest, attorneys’ fees and other court costs.
Neither Giddings nor von Ehlinger have filed a response to the lawsuit.