A suspended St. John’s University student is alleging gender bias and is suing his school and an affiliated college, claiming they falsely found that he probably committed sexual misconduct involving a female student after an evening of Halloween partying last year.
Aaron Wildenborg, of Red Wing, Minn., on Tuesday sued St. John’s and the neighboring College of St. Benedict in federal court, alleging that school officials erred in determinations of whether he had consent for sex and whether the woman was vulnerable because she was drunk.
Wildenborg also contends that the investigation was biased against him because he was prevented from fairly challenging her contentions of what happened that night and that she retreated from her initial allegations.
The suit further characterizes the St. Benedict student as being more of the sexual aggressor, noting that she did not request his consent for sexual acts she performed on him and notes that she was not subject to the same school investigation as he was for her actions that night.
Wildenborg, 20, seeks the immediate lifting of a two-year ban on his attending St. John’s, restoration of scholarships, compensation of at least $75,000, and payment of attorney fees and other costs associated with his filing suit.
Michael Hemmesch, spokesman for both schools, which are west of St. Cloud, said Wednesday that officials are aware of the suit but federal law prevents them from commenting.
Other schools, including the University of St. Thomas in St. Paul, are facing similar suits saying that colleges have trampled on the rights of the accused in their race to respond to federal pressure to swiftly prosecute allegations of campus rape and sexual assault.
Andrea Jepsen, Wildenborg’s attorney, said Wednesday that “there is a pretty significant double standard,” since his consent was not sought by the young woman and school officials did not look into that.
Jepsen said the school says its investigation met the “more likely than not” threshold in determining that an assault occurred but falls short of any legal standard for determining guilt.
“These are religious institutions,” Jepsen said of the Catholic schools. “This is a moral matter too. I want [school officials] to think empathetically … instead of digging in and going into defense mode. I hope they say they made a mistake and want to make it right.”
The woman, 20, is named in the court filing, but the Star Tribune generally does not name people who may have been victims of sexual assault.
Her father said Wednesday that he’s “very satisfied” with how school officials disciplined Wildenborg.
“My daughter was a very clean young woman,” said the father, adding that he was unaware of the lawsuit. “We are very proud of how she handled this. … She’s a very, very strong lady.”
According to Wildenborg, the two were at a party on the St. John’s campus and she later approached him at an off-campus “party house,” where she started hanging on his arm. They left together about 12:45 a.m. to her dorm room.
In the lawsuit, Wildenborg alleges he didn’t see her drink alcohol and that she never appeared drunk. Well into the night, she was able to open her roommate’s hamster cage, “giving no indication that she was inebriated as she engaged in this fine-motor activity,” according to the suit.
School investigators, however, concluded that the woman had consumed eight alcoholic beverages in a three-hour period early that evening, Wildenborg’s suit alleges.
At first, Wildenborg was “not seeking sexual activity” due to a medical condition making it painful, but the two began kissing and then he asked her: “Do you consent to this?” the suit reads.
Wildenborg was advised during freshmen orientation about the importance of obtaining consent in sexual encounters, according to the suit, and he also knew of a friend who did not seek affirmative consent and “suffered the consequences.”
“Given his friend’s experience, [Wildenborg] had resolved to … obtain affirmative consent for sexual activity, no matter how awkward it was,” the suit says, and she verbally agreed.
The next evening, the suit continues, the woman texted Wildenborg to say that she was intoxicated and unsure whether they had had intercourse. He said they had not.
More than five months after the encounter, which ended with the pair “cuddling naked” during the night, the suit said, the woman filed a formal complaint with school officials saying that Wildenborg had engaged in sexual misconduct, according to the lawsuit. She said in the statement that he tried to penetrate her without her consent.
However, the suit contends, the woman made “significant changes” to her testimony, including that the sex the two had did not include Wildenborg trying to have intercourse with her.