Idaho State Legislator Doxxed a Sexual Assault Survivor, Drawing Ethics Complaints

Rep. Priscilla Giddings, a candidate for Idaho lieutenant governor, circulated articles exposing the identity of a woman alleging assault by another lawmaker.

Republican state Rep. Priscilla Giddings sits at the Capitol in Boise, Idaho, on March 1, 2018. Photo: Kimberlee Kruesi/AP

Idaho state Rep. Priscilla Giddings is facing several ethics complaints after circulating articles revealing the identity of a 19-year-old woman who reported to authorities that another lawmaker, former House member Aaron von Ehlinger, had sexually assaulted her in March. Giddings, a Republican, is a reservist in the U.S. military — an institution confronting issues of abuse and underreporting — and is seeking greater power in Idaho politics as a candidate for lieutenant governor.

Giddings’s propagation of the articles prompted various Idaho-based rights groups to call on the House and military to hold her accountable for her treatment of Jane Doe, who was interning for the Idaho Legislature at the time of the alleged assault. In response, Democrat and Republican legislators have signed onto a confidential complaint filed with the House ethics committee against Giddings after she doxxed Doe, according to two sources who spoke with The Intercept on condition of anonymity. Giddings may now face a public hearing and sanctions. She did not reply to a request for comment.

Giddings is not only an elected official, but also a major in the Air Force Reserves, where she serves as an admissions officer for the Air Force Academy and Reserve Officers’ Training Corps, working with young people considering a future in the military.

The anti-extremist group Idaho 97 Project called on the Air Force to hold Giddings accountable and filed a complaint with the service’s inspector general hotline. According to Idaho 97’s Twitter page and an email shared with The Intercept, the Air Force Academy’s complaints resolution chief, Kathleen Soldano, was looking into concerns raised in the complaint as of May 26.

But Air Force Academy spokesperson Blaire Brush told The Intercept on May 28 that the academy does not have an open investigation into Giddings and referred questions to Air Force Reserve Command, which did not respond to a request for comment.

Giddings doxxed Doe after Doe reported an alleged assault by von Ehlinger, 38, who resigned from the Idaho Legislature after the House ethics committee unanimously found he engaged in “conduct unbecoming” of a representative. (Von Ehlinger, himself an Army veteran, has publicly denied the accusation, insisting he had consensual sexual relations with the woman far beneath him in professional standing.)

Sexual assault survivors often fear others will not believe them or will retaliate against them, inducing further trauma and convincing them more often than not against informing authorities. In 2019, the Justice Department estimated only about one-third of sexual assaults were reported to police.

Nevertheless, Doe alleged to a trusted individual working within the Idaho House that von Ehlinger had assaulted her, leading Republican House leaders to file an ethics complaint March 17 arguing he “engaged in conduct unbecoming” of a representative.

After the House ethics committee held confidential interviews with witnesses, including Doe, the panel unanimously found on April 15 there was probable cause to proceed with a public hearing and released a copy of the original complaint that redacted Doe’s name.

That’s when far-right blogs began publishing articles that included a leaked copy of the confidential statement von Ehlinger’s attorney had previously written to defend his client to the ethics committee. The copy did not redact Doe’s name, and the articles’ authors made no effort to hide her identity or take her allegations seriously. In addition to revealing Doe’s name, they included an image of her from high school and personal details about her family.

The articles found their way to a wider and more mainstream audience when Giddings shared one on her Facebook page and included one in a weekly newsletter to constituents, which also referred to Doe by a disparaging name, according to Doe’s attorney.

“If you’ve been sexually assaulted and you’re considering reporting, the last thing you want to have happen is people have your name attached to this, know what happened to you … feel like your family and your safety could potentially be at risk, be called names for doing what you’re told is the right thing to do,” Annie Hightower, Doe’s attorney and director of law and policy at the Idaho Coalition Against Sexual and Domestic Violence, told The Intercept. “It was terrifying.”

The targeting of Doe did not stop with Giddings’s Facebook post and newsletter. On April 28, the day of the public hearing — where Doe spoke using the pseudonym and from behind a curtain to protect her identity — three women followed her and Hightower through the Idaho state Capitol. One was supposedly a member of the media and the other two, according to Hightower, “are definitely connected to far-right fringe groups.”

After Doe gave testimony at the hearing, Hightower rushed her to a safe location and had to shield her from hecklers with an umbrella.

Giddings herself testified as a witness for von Ehlinger, and she continued to degrade Doe in her testimony. The representative claimed that on the same day she shared the Facebook post and newsletter, Doe had “accosted” her outside the Idaho state Capitol and left her a voicemail supposedly calling her a “horrible person” and saying she would pay for her sins and sue her.

With no evidence whatsoever, Giddings also made gross speculations about Doe’s mental state during their encounter — insults that defenders of alleged perpetrators commonly deploy against sexual assault survivors to shame them and cast doubt on their accusations, supporting the kind of permissive environments in which violence persists.

Although Doe was not on trial, Giddings alleged Doe’s behavior at the Capitol amounted to “harassing” and “intimidating” acts under Idaho code. According to Hightower, another Idaho Republican representative, Heather Scott, even tried to get Doe charged with false reporting and filed public records requests to obtain copies of the complaint she filed with law enforcement.

Other survivors considering whether to report their assaults but who are nervous about potential retaliation may be further deterred by the blatant double standard espoused by Giddings. She touts her values as a conservative Christian woman, yet when asked about her own observations of von Ehlinger — a 38-year-old elected official who did not deny having sexual relations with an intern — she testified “his behavior has been the utmost of professional and very gentlemanly-like even unlike maybe others.”

The day after the hearing, the ethics committee unanimously found von Ehlinger “engaged in conduct unbecoming” of a representative and recommended the House censure and vote to expel him, but he resigned before such a vote could occur. A police investigation into the former legislator remains ongoing, according to Hightower, who noted von Ehlinger’s decision to resign before the House could issue sanctions allows him to run for office again in the future.

Meanwhile, it’s unclear what the current status is of the new ethics complaint Giddings’s colleagues filed against her. The Idaho Legislature is currently out of session until January 2022, and Hightower noted standing committees like the ethics panel must have the speaker of the house’s permission to meet during recess. That means it may be at least six months before House legislators could vote on any sanctions.

Publicly, Giddings has carried on with her campaign for lieutenant governor, often boasting about her years as an A-10 pilot. All the while, in Washington, Congress and the Defense Department are looking to mitigate the retaliation that sexual assault survivors, particularly in the lower echelons of the armed forces, often face when reporting abuse. The issue has became central to lawmakers, particularly after the murder of Army Spc. Vanessa Guillén at Fort Hood by another soldier in April 2020 — a story that attracted national headlines. Guillén’s family had revealed that she suffered sexual harassment by a superior in the months before her death but avoided reporting it due to fears of reprisal.

That disclosure led Democrats and Republicans in the House and Senate last September to introduce the I Am Vanessa Guillén Act, which would remove the chain of command from decisions over whether to prosecute an alleged perpetrator of sexual assault and instead shift authority to an Office of the Chief Prosecutor. That may take some of the burden off survivors who are afraid their commanders will expose their traumas to their peers or inflict other forms of punishment if they report. The Senate version of the bill has been referred to the Armed Services Committee.

Join The Conversation