An Idaho lawmaker who shared the personal information of a 19-year-old student intern online after the teenager accused another lawmaker of rape was formally censured by the Idaho House of Representatives on Monday.
The representative, Priscilla Giddings, a Republican from White Bird, Idaho, was stripped of a committee assignment because she had shared an article that included the intern’s personal details on Facebook and in a newsletter with her supporters.
Giddings, who is seeking the Republican nomination for lieutenant governor, shared the information after the intern in March accused state Rep. Aaron von Ehlinger of sexual assault.
Von Ehlinger, 39, who resigned in April, has denied any wrongdoing. He pleaded not guilty to rape and sexual assault charges this month and is scheduled to stand trial in April 2022.
Sharing a person’s information online without their consent, a practice called doxxing, has often been used against women speaking out about sexual abuse. In May, Colorado made it illegal to share the personal information of public health workers and their families online for the purposes of harassment.
During a two-hour debate in the Idaho Statehouse on Monday, Giddings said she had not done anything wrong. “I would not have done anything differently,” she said. “I think my intent was pure.”
There was boisterous clapping and cheering from the public gallery after she spoke.
In an email, Giddings did not comment directly on the censure. She criticized Rep. Scott Bedke, who is the speaker of the House, the lawmaker who oversaw the censure hearing and her opponent in the lieutenant governor primary race. “Stopping this kind of unabashed corruption is exactly why I serve in the Legislature, and it’s exactly why I’m running,” she said.
Erika Birch, a lawyer for the intern, said her client watched the debate and was hurt by Giddings’ comments and by the other House members who voted against censure, in part because the internship was an opportunity for her to learn from those very people.
Birch described Giddings as “kicking somebody while they’re down and then refusing to accept any accountability for her action.”
In September, the former intern and her lawyers filed a tort claim against the Idaho Legislature, which said the intern, referred to as Jane Doe, feared for her and her family’s safety.
“Ms. Doe suffered and continues to suffer extreme emotional distress including suicidal ideation, depression, anxiety and panic attacks,” the tort claim said.
The intern, who had been working for another House Republican, told the ethics committee in March that von Ehlinger had sexually assaulted her after they had dinner at a Boise, Idaho, restaurant that month. Instead of taking her back to her car, von Ehlinger drove her to his apartment and raped her, she testified.
After the intern filed a police report, Giddings shared a blog post on her Facebook page and in her newsletter that included a photo of the intern, her full name and other identifying information. She also disparaged the woman in the posts.
In April, Giddings denied sharing the information in an ethics committee meeting. During the meeting, a member of the committee showed lawmakers that the post was still on the representative’s Facebook page.
The bipartisan House Ethics and Policy Committee in August found in a unanimous vote that Giddings engaged in “conduct unbecoming of a representative.”
On Monday, the House voted to formally censure Giddings in a 49-19 vote that also stripped her of her assignment on the Commerce and Human Resources Committee. She will keep other committee assignments. House members who voted for censure said they did so partly because Giddings had at one point lied about sharing the intern’s personal information while under oath.
Several Republican lawmakers defended Giddings during a two-hour debate Monday.
Rep. Heather Scott, a Republican from Blanchard, spoke about Giddings’ military service and how it contrasted with the behavior described by the ethics committee.
“Do you really know what she did wrong to punish her?” Scott said.
Toward the end of the debate, after Giddings spoke, several other Republicans voiced approval of the censure.
Rep. Caroline Nilsson Troy, a Republican from Genesee, said she was voting in favor of the punishment because House members had a responsibility to look after student interns.
“When we are sent young men and women of this state to care for in this body,” Nilsson Troy said, “I feel we have the responsibility to care for them to a higher standard — that standard we expect of ourselves as representatives.”
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