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After guilty conviction, reflecting on Jane Doe’s trauma and experience during Idaho lawmaker rape trial

"You can't expect people to talk about sexual violence if they're going to receive the treatment that Jane Doe received through this case," said Annie Hightower.

BOISE, Idaho — Following the rape conviction of former Idaho lawmaker Aaron von Ehlinger, the attorney for Jane Doe sat down with KTVB to talk about the last year and the trauma her client continues to face.

Annie Hightower has worked with Doe on her case since early 2021. Hightower is also the Director of law and policy with the Idaho Coalition Against Sexual & Domestic Violence.

She looked back on the case Monday and the emotions Doe and her team went through.

“It's been difficult. There are people who have touched this matter, who have been impacted by sexual violence in their past, or who have reached out in support for Jane Doe, who have been touched by sexual violence in their past. And to hear those stories, I feel grateful that people are sharing those. And it's also really difficult to know how many people are impacted day in, day out,” Hightower said.

One of the big storylines through the last year is the public doxing of Doe through a blog post that included her name and image. That post was shared across social media in early 2021, compromising the privacy of Doe. Hightower says the sharp pain of that fact is still with Doe and her team.

“I have a lot of things going through my head right now. I can tell you I'm angry and I sit with that anger every day. That was allowed to happen, that people made that choice. As a society, we put so much pressure on victims of sexual assault to report because it's the right thing to do. And often, part of that is, that you have a responsibility to protect future victims. Which, first of all, isn't fair. No one who's been harmed should have the responsibility of preventing future harm. But that's kind of the narrative that gets pushed out. You can not expect people to ever talk about sexual violence if they're going to receive the treatment that Jane Doe received through this case. I'm just so angry at it,” Hightower said.

Notable during the trial, Jane Doe tried to testify in court but was clearly traumatized and overwhelmed in the courtroom. She said, “I can’t do this” and left. Hightower said it was very tough to watch Doe go through that.

“That was a really hard moment. It had been a pretty tense few hours leading up to that,” Hightower said. “this is one area that I'd like to address in speaking to you right now, this is a good place to do it. One of the things that I know with my client that was really scary was that she was going to have to talk about really intimate details of her life in front of people. And given who was involved in this, there was a lot of media present in that room that day. There were people there supporting her that day. There were people there supporting him that day. But what that led to was a courtroom full of people that she did not know and she doesn't know who's there for her and who's there not for her. So that was hard. That was hard for me. It was hard watching that because you could see the pain she was in at the moment.”

Following the events in court with Doe leaving and her testimony being removed from the record, questions have been asked about ways sexual violence victims can testify so they don't have to be traumatized in court.

“This is where it's not black or white. It's not an easy choice to make. That prosecution team was prepared. They set a blueprint for how you prosecute cases without having a victim, and I give them so many kudos and commend them for that. They were prepared for whatever choice she made. But when you have been assaulted, you don't know what the right decision is. There's many people, absolutely, feel the need to show up and tell their story and talk about what happened to them. And many people don't want to do that. And some people don't know what they want to do. And so, it's hard to say one way or the other. She shouldn't have been in that position. But it needs to be led by the person who has been harmed. And that's the person who's been assaulted,” Hightower said.

Hightower adds an important reminder, a guilty verdict last week doesn't all of a sudden make the trauma go away for Jane Doe or any survivor.

“I think that's a really good point for people who haven't experienced sexual violence to recognize, because if you've never experienced it, if you've never been through these systems you think, OK, if that happened to me, I'd report to law enforcement, it would get prosecuted. The person would get found guilty and there will be justice served. A guilty verdict is not justice. It does not heal. It does not fix what happened to my client. Or anyone who has been sexually assaulted. What it does is at least it shows that 12 people believe me, that this happened to me. And that's something. But it's certainly not a magic bullet. It's not going to fix everything. I hope that people can see how hard this is for folks who experience sexual violence and recognize why they make the choices they do, such as not reporting or seeking an alternative means of healing,” Hightower said.

Like many others in the community, Hightower believes that changes need to be made to prevent survivors of sexual violence from being retraumatized in legal proceedings.

“There needs to be people from different perspectives coming in and figuring out some solutions,” Hightower said.

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