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A 19-year-old intern testified before a Legislative Ethics Committee that she had been raped by now-former Republican State Senator Aaron von Ehlinger.
The woman soon became the target of an organized harassment campaign undertaken by other Idaho lawmakers and supporters, including one who shared a link from a far-right blog post that publicly named the alleged victim, included her photo and revealed details about her personal life, according to a new report from The Associated Press.
After he woman, who had once believed the position was the first step in her path toward a career in government, testified against von Ehlinger, his supporters mobbed her as she made her way out of the hearing, crowding her and taking photos and video.
As they closed in, the woman, referred to as Jane Doe by the Associated Press, became so overwhelmed she curled up into a ball on the floor outside the hearing. Her legal team tried unsuccessfully to shield her with umbrellas.
“I can take criticism. I can take people laying out their opinion on me,” she told the AP. “But this, it’s just overwhelming.”
Von Ehlinger has been accused of raping the 19-year-old at his apartment after the pair went to dinner at a Boise restaurant—a claim which he has adamantly denied arguing that the sexual contact had been consensual.
She said he had gone to his apartment rather than taking her to his car because he claimed to have forgotten something, then attacked her and forced her to perform oral sex on him, despite her repeatedly telling him “no.”
She told the AP she just tried to block out the trauma.
“I got fixated on his curtains because they were bright red—I named them ‘American red’ in my head, because it was bright like the stripes in the flag,” she said. “I just stared at it…I will never forget how disgusting I felt.”
She reported the alleged rape to authorities two days later.
She also sent von Ehlinger a text reiterating that she had told him no and said she was so upset about the incident that she wasn’t sleeping.
“I feel like you kind of used me,” she wrote according to the Idaho Statesman.
Von Ehlinger faces additional allegations that he pursued, dated or asked out a total of four women working at the Capitol, behavior continued despite warnings, the Idaho Press reports.
The Boise Police Department is investigating the rape accusation from the 19-year-old. No formal criminal charges have yet been filed against von Ehlinger.
However, the legislative ethics committee took swift action against him, agreeing unanimously that he had committed conduct “unbecoming of a lawmaker.”
They unanimously voted to take the strongest actions against – suspending him from office or expelling him; however, von Ehlinger opted to resign within hours to avoid an expulsion vote, the local news outlet reports.
“For those who work and serve as interns in the Legislature, they have rights and expectations too,” Rep. John Gannon said. “I was an intern once, well, several times, and so was my daughter. And so were your children and your family members. And they have a right to have a respectful, helpful workplace and a safe workplace for them. And a good positive experience.”
The committee also condemned the action of von Ehlinger’s supporters who followed the intern into the hall after her testimony despite the clearly stated rules in place to protect her privacy.
“We are horrified by what happened after her testimony yesterday,” said a joint statement from her attorney Erika Birch and Annie Hightower, of the Idaho Coalition Against Sexual and Domestic Violence. “Again we urge the House of Representatives to show up for the teen survivor and all the other women who have been violated or made uncomfortable by von Ehlinger’s conduct. We demand accountability and immediate removal and expulsion.”
Rep. Wendy Horman said the audience members actions had been in clear violation of their instructions not to take photos of the teen as she entered or exited the building. She said the committee had also gone to “great lengths to protect the identity” of the intern by not releasing her name and protecting her visual identity during her testimony.
Horman said the committee will be “be inquiring further” into the incident.
But while the committee may have taken steps to protect the woman’s identity, other legislators clearly did not.
In a newsletter to constituents, Rep. Priscilla Giddings called the allegations nothing more than a “liberal smear job” and included a link to a far-right blog post that revealed the intern’s identity.
She did not respond to requests for comment on the matter from the AP.
Republican Rep. Heather Scott requested the official police report on the incident from the Boise Police Department and asked another representative how someone could be charged for filing a false report.
Scott declined to address the issue specifically but told the Associated Press they didn’t “have [your] facts straight.”
The intern told the outlet that the harassment has been traumatic.
“I respected them enough not to keep it a secret,” she said of lawmakers, “and they destroyed me.”
She isn’t the only one to have accused the former representative of bad behavior.
Documents obtained by the Idaho Statesman show that the von Ehlinger had been warned about his behavior toward women in the past, after the House Caucus Chair Megan Blanksma directed another lawmaker to talk to him.
Blanksma requested the lawmaker address the issue with von Ehlinger after a lobbyist had told her that the former representative had made her uncomfortable at a party even after she “tried several times” to move away from him.
He also asked a House clerk out to dinner but the woman declined the offer because she was married and said it would make her uncomfortable, the documents said.
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