Last week it was hard to call yourself an Idahoan without feeling ashamed.
The House Ethics Committee held hearings examining a series of sexual improprieties by Rep. Aaron von Ehlinger, R-Lewiston, who made repeated advances toward women in subordinate positions in the Legislature.
One woman who worked in the Capitol testified she went on a few dates with von Ehlinger, who brought her to his apartment to show her his gun collection, and he then pressured her into sex she didn’t want to have but ultimately consented to.
A married House clerk said von Ehlinger made her uncomfortable by asking her on a date. After she had written him an email asking him to stop, he was the only representative who gave her a birthday card.
Rep. Megan Blanksma testified that a female lobbyist reported von Ehlinger followed her to the bathroom, waited for her to come out and suggested they spend more time together. It appeared her purse had been rifled through, and she was concerned von Ehlinger now had her home address.
All in the space of a few months.
And finally, a 19-year-old intern identified as Jane Doe reported to the Legislature and the police that von Ehlinger took her to dinner, then lured her to his apartment, where he pinned her down and raped her.
Von Ehlinger, 38, claimed the encounter was consensual but admitted to having sexual contact with Jane Doe, who last year wore the uniform of a high school page.
The committee voted unanimously to censure him and indicated unanimous support for a motion on the House floor to expel him. Von Ehlinger resigned before they could.
That is what should have happened, and the committee should be commended for reaching the correct decision unanimously and bipartisanly.
But since Jane Doe came forward, continuing until the hearing and after it — continuing even right now — she has been attacked, harassed and doxxed. How could anyone be proud to live in a state that treats a 19-year-old victim like this?
Almost immediately after an ethics complaint was brought forward, Jane Doe was publicly identified. One of von Ehlinger’s lawyers sent out unredacted documents which included her name. A vile far-right blog published her name, photo and biographical details, and included information about her family.
Rep. Priscilla Giddings, R-White Bird, sent this information to her followers and constituents, abusing Jane Doe yet again — conduct which should be grounds for expulsion from the House.
The Ethics Committee should immediately begin investigating Giddings’ actions.
After the hearing, Giddings revealed the reason for her savagery. She shared an article arguing that with von Ehlinger out, a bill to accept a $6 million federal child care grant might pass. That is why she endangered her, for politics. Unbelievable.
The committee hurt Jane Doe too.
Doe had provided private testimony to the committee, along with text messages, recordings of phone calls, police reports and other evidence. Nonetheless, the committee issued a subpoena to Jane Doe requiring her to testify in a public hearing. (Service of the subpoena failed, but Doe decided to testify of her own free will).
The vital point here is that the committee did not recommend expelling von Ehlinger on the basis of rape — the question of consent, they said from the outset, would be determined by police. They found von Ehlinger had committed conduct unbecoming on the basis of facts that he had already admitted: that he had sex with a 19-year-old intern. There was no need to compel testimony.
Jane Doe’s lawyers said the process used by the ethics committee was more damaging to the victim than they had ever seen. Here the victim should speak for herself.
“How do I explain that? Vomiting on myself in the bathroom. ... Calling my mom because I’m terrified. ... How do I explain that to the committee what you’ve done to me?” she said.
The House Ethics Committee must develop procedures to allow reporting and testimony that do not involve this level of harm to the victim — or there will be no more reports. There will be silence and impunity.
And, as became clear during the hearings, the House does not have adequate official, formally adopted policies against representatives pursuing sexual relationships with people who work in the Capitol. It should begin developing such policies now.
A journalist hurt Jane Doe too.
Reporters at the hearing were directed not to film or photograph Doe. For a journalist, that rule is redundant. Professional journalists govern themselves according to a code of ethics that in almost all cases, including this one, precludes identifying a woman reporting that she has been raped.
And every professional journalist there did comport themselves according to that code.
Emri Moore, a reporter and weather anchor for CBS 2 News in Boise, aggressively attempted to film Doe as she left the hearing. When Doe’s lawyers attempted to shield her, Moore tried to get around them. Then Moore, along with a group of other people, chased Doe down the hallway, trying to film her, as her lawyer tried to shield Doe with an umbrella. Doe’s screams echoed through the marble halls as she was victimized yet again.
Every journalist in Idaho was outraged and ashamed when they learned a reporter had done this. The Capitol Correspondents Association, a group of reporters that issues journalist’s credentials, unanimously revoked Moore’s. CBS 2 issued a statement indicating Moore’s footage had been destroyed and that the company was treating the incident as a personnel matter.
Moore disgraced our profession. She should find a different one.
It is hard to find an institution that did not fail Jane Doe.
The whole state of Idaho needs to ask itself a question: How could we make a 19-year-old intern, barely out of high school, suffer this way?
Again and again and again.
If there was anything hopeful to be found this week, it was in the person of Jane Doe.
When the subpoena she expected did not arrive, she mustered the resolve to go to the committee anyway. Why?
“I came here fighting and earning your respect,” she told the committee. “But I don’t blame you. I forgive you. You’re doing your job, and I am too.”
If everyone had Jane Doe’s courage and sense of responsibility, this state would be a better place — much better than it showed itself to be last week.
The Post Register’s editorial board consists of Publisher Travis Quast, Managing Editor Monte LaOrange and editorial writer Bryan Clark. Clark can be reached at 208-542-6751.