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Idaho View: Von Ehlinger hearing is a sad, shameful and embarrassing day for the Idaho Legislature
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Idaho View: Von Ehlinger hearing is a sad, shameful and embarrassing day for the Idaho Legislature

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Ethics hearing: Idaho lawmaker accused of rape pleads Fifth

Supporters of a 19-year-old legislative intern who reported she was raped by a lawmaker nearly two decades her senior gathered for a rally outside the Idaho Statehouse on Wednesday, April 28, 2021. Inside, a legislative ethics committee was holding a public hearing to determine if state Rep. Aaron von Ehlinger, a Republican from Lewiston, should face censure or expulsion for the alleged conduct.

What a sad, disgraceful, cruel day for the Idaho Legislature.

The House Ethics Committee held a hearing to consider whether to recommend removing Rep. Aaron von Ehlinger, R-Lewiston, over an accusation that he sexually assaulted a legislative volunteer staffer.

The committee subpoenaed the woman accusing von Ehlinger, and her gut-wrenching testimony was difficult to listen to.

Having her testify was not only unnecessary but damaging.

“How do I explain that right before I got here, I was late because I was panicking on the floor, vomiting on myself in the bathroom and calling my mom because I’m terrified. How do I explain that to the committee?” she said, her voice quavering. “But I don’t blame you. I forgive you. You’re doing your job. And I am, too.”

The accuser, who showed tremendous courage in testifying, already provided a statement and accounting of the incident to police and the committee, and the committee could have used that rather than force her to publicly testify at Wednesday’s hearing.

“We believe that permitting questioning of Miss Doe regarding irrelevant matters will exacerbate the victim blaming and the bullying that she has already experienced,” Erika Birch, an attorney representing and assisting the 19-year-old woman, said before her testimony began. “Moreover, allowing this type of irrelevant questioning will discourage other victims, past, present and future, from coming forward with their experiences of sexual harassment or assault contrary to the Legislature’s public policy of encouraging reports.”

That did not prevent von Ehlinger’s attorney, Edward Dindinger, from going back to that old victim-blaming playbook of calling into question the woman’s credibility and motives.

He questioned whether she really was afraid of von Ehlinger. He even challenged the power dynamic and asked whether she reported the accusation to the legislator she was working for.

Dindinger challenged the woman’s motives of networking, advancing her career and going out on a date with von Ehlinger for free food.

Let’s be clear about what should be very obvious: None of that means consent.

Hopefully, the committee members — and eventually the House members — will see these tactics for what they are: victim blaming and shaming.

Adding insult to injury, the woman, referred to as Jane Doe and protected from public view behind a screen during the hearing, has been identified and maligned by Idaho’s contingent of far-right fanatics so addicted to a diet of falsehoods and conspiracy that they cooked up a narrative that the accusations against von Ehlinger are a “liberal smear campaign” coming from “the swamp” in Idaho meant to discredit a “conservative” lawmaker.

In particular, Rep. Priscilla Giddings, R-White Bird, shared information about the victim. If anything, Giddings also should be investigated for ethics violations. In a vile display at the hearing, she scoffed and laughed at various times.

The entire committee hearing had a circus atmosphere, including testimony of a sexual encounter von Ehlinger allegedly had with a security guard.

Is that what we send legislators to the Statehouse to do? Pick up security guards and hit on clerks and lobbyists at gatherings and in the halls of the Capitol?

Legislators were in attendance, and many besides Giddings could be heard joking and laughing, unthinkable in such a somber and serious occasion. Have they no shame?

To make matters even worse, some people in the audience of Wednesday’s committee hearing chased the 19-year-old woman accusing von Ehlinger and took photos and video of her leaving the building and shared it with others, adding to the circus atmosphere of Wednesday’s hearing.

To put this young woman through this horrible experience certainly will have a chilling effect on any other victims in the future.

Everything about Wednesday’s hearing was shameful, disgraceful and once again makes Idaho a national embarrassment. Behavior unbecoming, indeed.

Statesman editorials are the unsigned opinion expressing the consensus of the Idaho Statesman’s editorial board. Board members are publisher Rusty Dodge, opinion editor Scott McIntosh, editor Chadd Cripe and newsroom editors Dana Oland and Jim Keyser and community members J.J. Saldaña and Christy Perry.

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