Male student suspended over sex assault claim is suing colleges for gender bias

The student says he has been unfairly punished over a sexual misconduct allegation.
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A student is suing for gender bias and unfair treatment by St. John's University, which suspended him for two years when an investigation found he likely sexually assaulted a female student.

Aaron Wildenborg, 20, of Red Wing, has filed the suit in federal court against St. John's and the neighboring College of St. Benedict, in Collegeville, claiming he has been unfairly punished over an incident on Oct. 31, 2015.

He is arguing the college didn't fully investigate the St. Benedict student's claims that she was drunk when they went to her dorm room after attending two Halloween parties. Wildenborg says he didn't see her drink that night.

Wildenborg says he initially asked for consent to sexual activity – which he says she approved – and respected her wishes when she did not consent to intercourse.

The woman performed sex acts on him, but according to the lawsuit the investigation concluded Wildenborg should have asked for consent again for this. The suit says investigators did not consider that the woman should have asked Wildenborg for consent, which it says is an example of gender bias.

The suit says:

"The defendants' decision that it was more likely than not that Plaintiff 'engaged in nonconsensual sexual contact with [the woman] because 'there is no evidence that [Plaintiff] sought consent or that consent was present' ... even though [the woman] performed those activities upon Plaintiff, is so backwards and irrational that it can only be explained by discriminatory gender bias against males in cases involving allegations of sexual assault in violation of Title IX."

'Significant changes' made to her story

After cuddling at the end of the night, Wildenborg got a ride home from the female student the next morning and they continued to text for the next two months.

But five months after Halloween, the complaint which ultimately resulted in Wildenborg's suspension was submitted to the university.

Investigators sided with the woman, who initially claimed he tried to penetrate her without consent but later retracted this allegation. The lawsuit contends she made "significant changes" to her initial testimony, which included admitting she performed a sex act on Wildenborg.

The St. John's student is now asking for his suspension to be lifted, his scholarships restored and compensation of at least $75,000.

College limited Wildenborg's defense

The universities are also in violation of common law on fair dealing, the suit argues, saying he was not given a fair opportunity to challenge the woman's claims, and was only given "limited" access to her written statements against him.

The college also limited his response to her complaint to 4,500 words, and his rebuttal to her response to 1,300 words. He was also not allowed to have a lawyer speak or write on his behalf.

His lawyers also think it's unfair that Wildenborg could lose his education and reputation because the college requires "only a simple majority of three" college employees find it "slightly more likely than not" that he engaged in sexual misconduct.

Similar suits being filed elsewhere

The Star Tribune reports other colleges are currently facing similar lawsuits from students who argue college personnel have "trampled on the rights of the accused" as they respond to pressure to swiftly prosecute allegations of campus sex assaults.

Wildenborg's attorney Andrea Jepsen told the paper "there is a pretty significant double standard" at work in how the school did not look at the claim the woman did not seek Wildenborg's consent.

The colleges are not commenting at this time, but the woman's father spoke to the Star Tribune, saying he's satisfied with how the universities handled it and that he's "very proud" of how his daughter dealt with it.

The New Yorker reports that under the threat of losing federal Title IX funding for not dealing with sexual violence complaints properly, some schools have developed new policies that has resulted in lawyers being barred from hearings, and accused students not being given the complaint, charges, evidence or identities of witnesses, nor the chance to cross-examine accusers and witnesses.

"Most remarkably, many of the suits have claimed that the new procedures, which were developed to protect the Title IX rights of sexual-assault victims, in practice violate the Title IX rights of the accused," the magazine writes.

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