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Ex-intern sues Idaho lawmaker for harassing her after rape

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 revealing the teenager'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 years old when she reported the incident to then-Rep. Aaron von Ehlinger raped her in 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 abused.

In the lawsuit, Doe says that von Ehlinger and then Republican Rep. Priscilla Giddings, both Republicans, retaliated by publicly revealing her name, encouraging the media to publish it and lying about her. According to her lawsuit, she is seeking unspecified damages.

“As a result of disclosing Ms. Doe’s identity, Ms. Doe has been subjected to ongoing 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 whether von Ehlinger has an attorney representing him in the lawsuit; His criminal public defender did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

At least 120 state lawmakers in 41 states have faced public allegations of sexual misconduct or harassment since 2017, according to an Associated Press tally. Of those, 48 have resigned or been expelled, including a Pennsylvania lawmaker accused of sexual harassment who tendered his resignation this week. Of the others who were publicly accused, 45 suffered consequences such as losing a committee chair or party leadership position. Most of the allegations came after the #MeToo movement sparked a public denunciation of those in power accused of sexual misconduct.

In the Idaho case, Doe alleges that Giddings and von Ehlinger conspired to violate her rights, invade her privacy and cause her 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.

Giddings' and Ehlinger's efforts caused injuries, including “extreme and prolonged emotional distress,” Doe's lawyers wrote in the lawsuit.

Some of Ehlinger's supporters have continued to denigrate 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 to mock Doe. He wore a sash with the young woman's real name and the words “Miss Idaho Capitol.”

The investigation into von Ehlinger began on March 11, 2021, after Doe reported the attack 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 his removal from office. It also sparked 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 claimed that he and Doe had consensual sexual contact.

Giddings was also reprimanded by the Legislature's Ethics Committee after her actions following Doe's rape report came to light. She served the remainder of her term and ran for lieutenant governor, but lost in the 2022 Republican primary.

On April 16, 2021, Von Ehlinger and his attorney David Leroy were asked by Doe's attorneys and the Ethics Commission to keep Doe's name secret, the lawsuit says. Giddings, who apparently helped von Ehlinger prepare a press release about the ethics investigation, also spoke with Leroy and von Ehlinger that day, according to the lawsuit.

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

Before closing time, a right-wing news website published a post with Doe's real name, a photo of her as a younger teenager and personal details about her life. Giddings then posted a link to the post on her Facebook account, along with the picture of Doe as a minor. Giddings republished the information the following day and sent it to her constituents as part of a “legislative update” email in which she referred to Doe with a derogatory term.

Another right-wing extremist website also published Doe's name by printing an image of the unredacted response sent by Ehlinger's lawyer.

Doe is asking a judge to award her an unspecified amount of damages, 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 wrote from Jefferson City, Missouri.

Anna Harden

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