Hours after a legislative ethics committee voted that he should be suspended or permanently expelled for misconduct, an Idaho lawmaker accused of rape resigned Thursday, the Idaho Statesman reported. The former representative, identified as Aaron von Ehlinger, was accused of raping a 19-year-old intern.
Investigations against von Ehlinger began in March after the young staffer reported he raped her in his apartment after the two had dinner. After the Idaho House Ethics and House Policy Committee unanimously agreed that von Ehlinger engaged in “behavior unbecoming” with not one but multiple women at the Statehouse and decided to censure him, he resigned, denying all accusations and maintaining that the incident was consensual.
"After careful deliberation and prayer, I have determined that I will not be able to effectively represent my constituents in the House of Representatives, and have decided to resign my seat effective immediately," von Ehlinger wrote in the letter.
His resignation letter was read on the state House floor.
“It is my hope that this action spares my good colleagues any more difficulty in this area,” the letter said. “I maintain my innocence of any wrongdoing of which I have been accused in this matter, let alone any violation of any law, rule or policy of the state of Idaho or of this body.”
The motion to censure von Ehlinger was expected to be voted on as soon as Friday, with only a majority in the House needed to suspend him without pay or benefits. Under the motion, he would have had to leave the Capitol immediately, but his resignation made the full House vote unnecessary.
The panel’s decision to unanimously suspend von Ehlinger and support any motion to expel him follows hours’ worth of testimony from individuals, including the teen who first made the allegations.
Identified as Jane Doe, the survivor shared a heartbreaking testimony, including how difficulty it was to even testify.
“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 calling my mom because I’m terrified?” Doe said. “How do I explain that to the committee and what you’ve done to me?”
Following the panel's vote, House Speaker Scott Bedke issued a statement supporting the decision, noting that the committee “accurately determined that von Ehlinger engaged in conduct unbecoming a member of this House.” “His behavior is something that we will not tolerate and casts a shadow over the good work done in the Idaho Statehouse. It is our privilege to serve and practicing strong ethics is central to serving in these hallowed halls,” Bedke continued.
According to The Associated Press, this isn’t the first complaint against von Ehlinger. He has had numerous complaints filed against him and has even previously been warned not to engage in contact perceived as flirtatious. During Wednesday’s hearing, committee members were told that in addition to his encounter with Doe, the 38-year-old legislator also had a sexual relationship with a young Capitol security guard and made romantic advances toward a clerk and a lobbyist.
The AP noted that when warned about these advances, von Ehlinger got “defensive” and said he felt it was okay to ask out women he worked with, because they would let him know if there was an issue with it.
Additionally, several lawmakers shared that von Ehlinger was not only warned multiple times about his actions toward female employees but had been asked to attend multiple “Respectful Workplace” trainings.
In response to the testimonies, Rep. Brent Crane noted that von Ehlinger had “a predatory pattern.” “This is a guy who told the committee, ‘This will never happen again,’ ” Crane told the Idaho Statesman. “It wasn’t a nonconsent issue, but it was the same sexual act, and she felt pressured into that sexual act. So to me, it’s very troubling, very alarming, that you have one that says, ‘Hey, he raped me,’ and the other one saying, ‘I did not want to do that at all,’ and it was the exact same thing — the exact same sexual act.”
Rep. John McCrostie agreed and added that in the last few months von Ehlinger had been warned at least twice. But the real issue is: If von Ehlinger clearly displayed predatory behavior and had been called out for it multiple times in the past, why did it take so long for anyone to take action? It raises the possibility that had this been done sooner, the teen’s assault may not have occurred.
To make matters worse, the teen who struggled to give her testimony was harassed and targeted. After her testimony, Doe was harassed by two members of an extremist group and KBOI-TV reporter Emri Moore, “who followed her through the Capitol filming her distress,” Doe’s attorneys Erika Birch and Annie Hightower said in a joint statement Thursday, according to the Statesman.
Both attorneys noted that while the hearing was the first step toward holding von Ehlinger accountable, many survivors do not speak up because of the backlash they face. In addition to being harassed after the hearing, another representative identified as Priscilla Giddings publicly announced the survivor’s name and discredited her in a newsletter sent to her constituents. The email was later retracted with the photo and name of the survivor removed, but that does not take away from the trauma and harassment Doe faced.
"The unrelenting harm that has occurred as a part of this process, and as a result of her being doxxed in blogs and by Rep. Priscilla Giddings, is exactly why two-thirds of Idaho survivors of sexual assault never choose to report the crimes against them," the attorneys said. "Every time a system fails to protect survivors it reinforces why survivors of sexual violence choose not to report and to suffer in silence."
According to the Rape, Abuse & Incest National Network (RAINN), the nation's largest anti-sexual violence organization, only 230 out of every 1,000 sexual assaults are reported to the police. Meaning about three out of four assaults go unreported. Two out of three sexual assaults are committed by someone the victim knows. Additionally, 38% of rapists are considered a friend or acquaintance by the victim.
Von Ehlinger was appointed by Gov. Brad Little in June 2020, according to The New York Times. Prior to von Ehlinger’s resignation, Little issued a statement Thursday applauding Doe’s courage and noting that officials must be held to a higher standard.
“I applaud Jane Doe and the other brave women for their courage in telling their stories and participating in this process to hold Representative Aaron von Ehlinger accountable for his deeply damaging and shameful actions,” Little said. “Representative von Ehlinger’s inappropriate and alarming actions stand in opposition to the values and behavior state elected officials must uphold.”
The Boise Police Department is still investigating the teen’s accusation of forced oral sex and listed the offense as rape in a police report. At this time, von Ehlinger has not been charged with a crime.