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BOISE, Idaho (AP) – As a 19-year-old intern reported she was raped by an Idaho lawmaker became public, the harassment began.
A state official requested a copy of her police report and asked how the young woman herself could be dismissed on criminal charges for reporting the alleged rape. Another shared links to a far-right blog post that included the intern’s name, photo and personal details about her life with thousands of people in a newsletter and on social media. Members of a group of far-right and anti-government activists attempted to follow and harass the young woman after she was called to testify at a legislative hearing on public ethics.
“I can take criticism. I can get people to voice their opinions on me, ”the intern told The Associated Press in a phone interview Sunday night. “But that is just overwhelming.”
The Associated Press does not name people who report sexual assault unless they agree to be publicly named. The intern in this case asked to use the name “Jane Doe,” which is the name she testified under at a Legislative Ethics Board hearing last week.
The investigation into then-Rep. Aaron von Ehlinger, a Republican from Lewiston, points out why many suspected sex crimes go unreported. While the #MeToo movement has made it clear that sexual harassment and assault remains a widespread problem, survivors can face stigma and disbelief when they come forward. Today, about three in four sexual assaults go unreported, according to the Rape and Incest National Network, and data from the United States Bureau of Justice Statistics shows that up to one-fifth of sexual violence survivors who choose not reporting their crimes to the police cited fear of retaliation as the main reason.
The investigation began in March after the intern reported raping her in her apartment after they went to a restaurant in Boise. Von Ehlinger has denied all wrongdoing and maintains that they had consensual sex. The Boise Police Department is investigating.
A legislative ethics committee voted unanimously last week that he had engaged in “unbecoming conduct” of a lawmaker. Von Ehlinger resigned before the Plenary Chamber could vote on whether to remove him from office.
Yet the harassment that Doe faces has not stopped. Members of the far right continue to attack, with some calling her derogatory names and posting her photo.
“Do you know that photo that everyone posts?” I am 12 years old in this photo. I’m not even a teenager in this photo, and they share it by calling me bad, ”Doe said. “But the truth cannot be changed.”
Doe started working in the Idaho Statehouse a year ago, assisting legislative committees as part of the Legislative High Schools ‘Page’ program. She returned this year as an intern, hoping to prepare for a future career in government. She said she accepted von Ehlinger’s dinner invitation because she was hoping to network and was thrilled to go to a restaurant that cost a lot more than she could afford with her. almost minimum wage.
After dinner, von Ehlinger drove her back to his apartment rather than his car because he said he forgot something. Once there, Doe said, he then pinned her down and forced her to have oral sex, despite having said “no” in several ways and froze. Doe is short and von Ehlinger is taller, she says.
“He has a collection of guns. Fighting or fleeing has never been an option, ”she said.
During the alleged rape, Doe tried to focus on something else.
“I stared at her curtains because they were bright red – I named them ‘American red’ in my head, because it was shiny like the stripes on the flag,” she said. “I just watched it… I’ll never forget how disgusting I felt.”
She reported the incident two days later. This is followed by forensic examinations, reports to the Idaho attorney general, and talks with the ethics committee.
The committee eventually announced that a public hearing would be held on the matter, making Doe’s complaint public on April 16.
Within hours, von Ehlinger’s supporters began to publicize Doe’s identity. One of his attorneys published a letter to the press containing Doe’s real name. Two far-right websites posted Doe’s name and details about his life, and one included his photo as well.
“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 from White Bird, shared the link to Doe’s name and photo in a ballot to voters and said the allegations were nothing more than “Liberal smear work.” She also shared the blog post with thousands of social media followers, making the identity of the intern known. Giddings did not respond to repeated requests for comment from the PA.
Rep. Heather Scott, a Republican from Blanchard, has filed a public record request with the town of Boise for a copy of the young woman’s police report. Scott approached Rep. Melissa Wintrow, a Democrat from Boise, to ask how someone who files a false police report alleging sexual assault could be charged. Wintrow is a board member of the Idaho Coalition Against Sexual & Domestic Violence, which represents Jane Doe.
Scott declined to answer the AP’s questions and sent a comment in a short email.
“I don’t think (sic) you have your facts,” Scott wrote on April 27.
Doe was unaware that his identity had been made public until his next shift at the Statehouse. She immediately understood that the atmosphere around her was different.
“The secretaries let me know that Giddings did this and they were showing me the article,” Doe said, “and my life crashes before my eyes.”
She kept showing up for work – in part because the ethics committee told her she had to be available, she said. But she felt like she was under a magnifying glass. Attorneys for the Attorney General’s office questioned her about her movements in the Statehouse. When she tried to ask the governor for a photo – she was hoping to get one back for each year she served in the Capitol building – staff members assumed she just wanted to complain, Doe said.
“No one had the humanity to look me in the eye as if I had shamed me,” she said. “They made everything I do look suspicious.
Being called to testify publicly at the ethics hearing made the pain worse. She had previously testified in private, only to be arrested when she began the difficult process of describing the alleged rape by a committee member who said it might make Doe and the committee uncomfortable.
“I was so upset by this,” Doe said.
Doe was protected from public view during the hearing, and the committee warned everyone that his identity should be kept private. As Doe left the audience, some onlookers who were there to support von Ehlinger rushed to try and film her.
Boise resident Karen Smith, herself a former Statehouse intern who attended the ethics hearing in support of Doe, heard the intern screaming in the hallway after being accosted.
“I was like, ‘Oh no, maybe someone needs to go help out,’” Smith said.
When Smith found the group, Doe was curled up in a ball on the ground as her legal team attempted to protect her with umbrellas. The spectators tried to get closer to the young woman to film her and take pictures.
Smith and another person tried to keep viewers from getting close to Doe, she said.
“There were like eight policemen there, the state police, but they were looking and doing nothing and they said, ‘We don’t have the right to take sides.’ So we kept going, ”Smith said.
While the ethics investigation is not a criminal investigation, criminal trials provide clues for situations like this where emotions are likely to run high, former U.S. lawyer Wendy Olson said.
“You have to anticipate what the risks are to that person,” Olson said in a telephone interview last week, and take action, including private entry and exit for witnesses and warn people of any retaliation.
“The court always makes it clear that one of the worst things you can do is try to harass or intimidate a witness,” Olson said.
The alleged rape, harassment and hearing all made one thing clear, Doe said. She won’t stop fighting until she is sure the Statehouse has policies in place to prevent anyone from feeling the same pain that she suffered.
“It was all pushed to me against my will after my repeated ‘no’ attempts,” she said. “But I get my voice back. It’s mine, it’s not theirs.