BOISE, Idaho (AP) — The harassment began soon after a report by a 19-year-old intern, who alleged an Idaho lawmaker raped her, became public.
One state representative sought a copy of the police report and made inquiries into how the young woman herself could be referred for criminal charges for reporting the alleged rape.
Another shared links to a far-right blog post that included the intern’s name, photo and details about her life with thousands of people in a newsletter and on social media.
And members of an anti-government group tried to follow and harass the young woman after she was called to testify in a legislative ethics hearing.
“I can take criticism,” the intern told The Associated Press in a phone interview Sunday evening. “But this, it’s just overwhelming.”
The AP doesn’t name people who report sexual assaults unless they agree to be publicly named. She asked to use the name “Jane Doe.”
The investigation into then-Rep. Aaron von Ehlinger, a Republican from Lewiston, underscores why many alleged sex crimes go unreported. Survivors can face stigma and disbelief when they come forward.
The Idaho probe began in March after the intern reported that the lawmaker raped her after they went out to dinner. Von Ehlinger has denied all wrongdoing and maintains they had consensual sex. The Boise Police Department is investigating.
Von Ehlinger resigned after a legislative ethics committee found he engaged in “conduct unbecoming” a lawmaker. But the harassment faced by Doe didn’t stop. Some are still calling her names and posting her photo online.
“You know that photo everyone is posting? I’m 12 years old in that photo,” Doe said. “But the truth cannot be altered.”
Doe said she was hoping to network when she agreed to von Ehlinger’s dinner invitation. After dinner, von Ehlinger brought her back to his apartment rather than her car because he said he’d forgotten something. Once there, Doe said, he forced her to perform oral sex, despite her saying “no.” She said she froze.
“I got fixated on his curtains because they were bright red — I named them ‘American red’ in my head,” she said. “I will never forget how disgusting I felt.”
She reported the alleged assault to Statehouse officials and police two days later. Her complaint became public April 16.
Within hours, von Ehlinger’s supporters began publicizing Doe’s identity. One of his attorneys released a letter that included Doe’s real name. Two far-right websites posted Doe’s name, and one included her photo.
“I respected them enough not to keep it a secret,” Doe said of von Ehlinger’s fellow lawmakers, “and they destroyed me.”
Rep. Priscilla Giddings, a Republican, shared the link with Doe’s name and photo in a newsletter to constituents and on social media. She called the allegations a “liberal smear job.” Giddings has not responded to repeated requests for comment from the AP.
Rep. Heather Scott, also a Republican, filed a public record request seeking a copy of the young woman’s police report. Scott approached Rep. Melissa Wintrow, a Democrat from Boise, to ask about how a person who files a false police report alleging sexual assault could be charged. Wintrow is a board member for the Idaho Coalition Against Sexual & Domestic Violence, which represents Jane Doe.
Scott refused to answer questions from the AP, saying only in an April 27 email: “I dont (sic) think you have your facts straight.”
Doe kept showing up for work — partly because the ethics committee told her she needed to be available, she said. She felt like she was under a magnifying glass.
“Nobody had the humanity to even look me in the eye, like I brought shame,” she said.
Being called to testify publicly at the ethics hearing compounded the pain. She’d already testified in private, only to be stopped from describing the alleged rape by a committee member who said it might make everyone uncomfortable.
Doe was shielded from public view during the hearing, and the committee warned everyone her identity should stay private. As Doe left, some onlookers who were there in support of von Ehlinger rushed out to try to film her.
Boise resident Karen Smith, who attended the ethics hearing to support Doe, heard the intern screaming.
“I thought, ‘Oh no, somebody needs to maybe go help,’” Smith said.
Smith found Doe huddled on the floor as her legal team tried to shield her with umbrellas as onlookers tried to get close enough to film Doe.
Smith tried to block the onlookers from getting close to Doe and said state police standing nearby observed but said they couldn’t “take sides.”
The ethics investigation was not a criminal investigation, but court trials provide some guidance for situations with high emotions, said former U.S. Attorney Wendy Olson.
“The court always makes it clear that among the worst things you could ever do is try to harass or intimidate a witness,” Olson said.
Doe said she won’t stop fighting until she’s sure the Statehouse enacts policies to prevent her situation from happening again.
“I’m taking my voice back,” Doe said. “It’s mine, it’s not theirs.”