By Ruth Brown, Idaho Reports
In the week following a Legislative ethics hearing revolving around a sexual assault allegation against a former legislator, House leadership received nearly 2,000 complaints about Rep. Priscilla Giddings, R-White Bird, after she twice published a link to a blog that named the victim of an alleged sexual assault.
Most of the complaints came from the same online form letter, but others were individualized, criticizing Giddings’ role in identifying the believed victim.
In March, a 19-year-old intern accused former Rep. Aaron von Ehlinger of sexually assaulting her. Von Ehlinger maintains the interaction was consensual. Boise Police are investigating, but he has not been criminally charged. Von Ehlinger resigned on April 29, hours after the Ethics and House Policy Committee recommended he be censured.
Idaho Reports called and emailed Giddings on Monday for comment, but did not receive a response.
After the allegation became public, Giddings shared a link on her Facebook page to a blog post about the complaint against von Ehlinger that identified the victim by name and included personal information about the woman. She also shared the link to the blog in her legislative newsletter. That Facebook post has since been removed.
Idaho Reports does not identify possible victims of sexual assault. Idaho Reports did not include the link or name of the blog, in an effort to avoid further identification of the woman.
A public record request filed by Idaho Reports asked for copies of any and all complaints filed about Giddings with the office of House Speaker Scott Bedke regarding the ethics hearing.
The response found that between April 28 and May 5, leadership received at least 1,931 complaints about Giddings. The names of people making the complaints were redacted in the response.
Of those complaints, 1,907 of them were identical, except for the date, time and sender.
The Idaho 97 Project had a form on its website with the letter, which supporters could use to send e-mails to Bedke.
In total, Idaho 97 Project’s executive director Mike Satz told Idaho Reports on Monday that leadership received 2,273 of the emails, as more were sent after May 5. The emails went to both House and Senate leadership in the majority and minority parties.
“We want leadership to know that there are a lot of people who are very upset and while we are helping them send the email, they are individual people,” Satz said.
He knows it has been a difficult year for some people who were being cautious in the pandemic to communicate with lawmakers. The form has served as a tool to help people communicate with legislators, he said.
“You and the Ethics Committee showed leadership in trying to make the House — and the revered building in which we all are free to conduct the people’s work — a safer place for staff, visitors, and elected officials alike,” the letters said, going on to ask that Giddings be referred to the Ethics and House Policy Committee for investigation.
“Giddings circumvented due process in directing her constituents and the general public, through her official, publicly-funded email list and her social media, to articles and blog posts that publicly named the teen who the committee has respectfully called Jane Doe. This practice, known as “doxxing” has no place in the Idaho House of Representatives, and Giddings should be called to answer for her despicable actions during this case,” the letter states.
Some of the other letters obtained in the record request were sent to other members of House and Senate leadership, as well as Gov. Brad Little.
Samples from other letters included:
- “What this young Jane Doe experienced today at the hands of legislative members who are supposed to represent leadership in our state is absolutely appalling,” one response read.
- Another read “I am writing because Representative Giddings must face censure for outing the name of “Jane Doe” on social media as part of the Von Ehrlinger travesty. This is an incredible embarassment (sic) for our state, and it must be rectified.”
- Another read “I call for an investigation/hearing regarding the behavior of Rep. Priscilla Giddings towards Jane Doe. Rep. Giddings behavior was wrong, hateful and immoral. All citizens of Idaho deserve better.”
Idaho Reports has attached a document to the bottom of this post with the record request posted in its entirety.
Under House Rule 45, an ethics complaint may only be referred to the ethics committee if the complaint came from a fellow House member, not a member of the public. So, the calls for investigation from citizens alone will not trigger an investigation.
If a member does file a complaint, “(w)ritten complaints shall remain confidential until such time as the Ethics and House Policy Committee finds probable cause that such member has committed misconduct,” according to Rule 45.
In addition to the letters calling for a hearing, the Idaho Female Veterans Network’s board of directors released a statement last week condemning Giddings, who is a veteran and a member of the Air Force Reserves. The ACLU also has a petition asking for a House investigation into her conduct. As of Monday, it had about 6,000 signatures.
The ethics hearing
On April 28, the ethics committee heard a full day of testimony from lawmakers and the intern, as well as two other women who worked in the statehouse who said von Ehlinger asked them out while at work. A female lobbyist also reportedly told Majority Caucus Chair Megan Blanksma that von Ehlinger made her uncomfortable.
Throughout the hearing, some lawmakers listened seriously, while others laughed at the testimony and audibly sighed.
When the alleged victim of von Ehlinger, identified as Jane Doe, left the hearing, a small group of people followed her as she tried to leave and tried to take videos and photos of her.
Giddings testified at the ethics hearing, saying Jane Doe had confronted her about posting the information.
When Giddings returned to her office after the interaction, she had a voicemail from the intern, calling Giddings a horrible person, according to testimony. Giddings claimed the intern said it stated “You are gonna pay for your sins.” Giddings reported the incident to Idaho State Police.
Jane Doe acknowledged the interaction with Giddings in her testimony, saying when she left the voicemail, she was panicking.
When asked about the posts online in the ethics committee, Giddings said she believed both sides needed to be equally shared.
“If Rep. von Ehlinger’s name was going to be made public, I believe that everybody should be innocent until proven guilty and that both sides of the story need to be equally represented,” Giddings said in committee.
Ultimately, the Ethics and House Policy Committee voted unanimously to recommend the House censure and suspend von Ehlinger, also supporting expulsion. Von Ehlinger resigned before the House could vote on the recommendation.
The National Sexual Assault Hotline is available 24 hours a day at 1-800-656-4673, or online at www.rainn.org. The service is free and confidential.