A well-reported, harrowing story of alleged rape and coordinated harassment in Idaho opens the door to a look at sexual misconduct allegations in statehouses across the country.
When a 19-year-old legislative intern reported that a state lawmaker in Idaho raped her, she almost immediately faced a campaign of harassment from right-wing groups in the state, and even from other state representatives, who publicized her identity against her will. A legislative panel then forced her to testify from behind a screen at an ethics hearing, after which she was followed and subjected to still further abuse by the accused lawmaker’s supporters.
The sordid story of the young woman’s ordeal was covered with sensitivity by Boise Statehouse correspondent Rebecca Boone in a series of pieces, and it prompted a wider look by AP at allegations of sexual misconduct in statehouses around the country. The body of work, combining strong local reporting, public records requests, careful source building and the reach of AP’s statehouse reporting network, earns AP’s Best of the States.
In the run-up to the legislative hearing, Boone detailed how Republican state Rep. Aaron von Ehlinger had been previously warned by a colleague against pursuing women who work at the Statehouse, and how others were trying to intimidate the intern by releasing her name and photos. The woman contacted Boone and agreed to speak exclusively to AP under the name “Jane Doe,” describing how her dream job turned into a nightmare and how “overwhelming” the abuse and continued harassment had become.
On April 27, the day before the ethics panel hearing, Boone was tipped off that the intern had been ordered to publicly testify. Coming after the publication of Boone’s story, the victim was allowed to speak behind a screen and her identity was withheld. But in the days before, one lawmaker revealed the teen’s name and other personal details, amplifying a coordinated doxxing effort by right wing groups. The intern told Boone that the campaign against her was scary and hurtful, but that she would not be intimidated: “I’m taking my voice back,” she told Boone. The story that included the interview with the young woman resonated with readers. Two days after the initial publication, it had the second-highest reader engagement score on AP News.
As that story unfolded in the Idaho Statehouse, AP’s State Government Team quickly produced a distinctive story revealing the number of state lawmakers across the U.S. who have been publicly accused of sexual misconduct since the beginning of the #MeToo era. Missouri correspondent David Lieb, working with his statehouse colleagues around the country, has been tracking every public accusation since 2017, along with details about each case. This ongoing effort paid off after the Idaho lawmaker resigned.
Within a day, Lieb had a story that showed at least 109 state lawmakers in 40 states have faced public allegations of sexual misconduct or harassment over the past 3 ½ years. Of those, 43 have resigned or been expelled, like the Idaho lawmaker, and 42 have faced other repercussions such as the loss of committee chair or party leadership positions.
Lieb worked with Report for America data journalist Camille Fassett to make the state-by-state lawmaker details available for use through a data distribution to AP customers. The distribution also included details about any sexual harassment legislation passed in the states and the policies in every legislature for investigating allegations of misconduct. That reporting further revealed that the Idaho Legislature had never formally adopted a policy that would have required its members to create a “respectful workplace.” Boise reporter Keith Ridler added fresh comments on that point from a lawmaker.
For aggressive yet sensitive coverage that put one woman’s voice at the center of the story and provided distinctive national context that leveraged AP’s statehouse and data resources, Boone, Lieb and Fassett share this week’s Best of the States award.