A Minnesotan’s idea of hazing leads to a guilty plea for sexual assault

Ben Rohrbach
Prep Rally
Seth Kellen, 19, pled guilty to sexually assaulting a high school teammate -- Minneapolis Star Tribune
Seth Kellen, 19, pled guilty to sexually assaulting a high school teammate -- Minneapolis Star Tribune

One man's hazing is another man's sexual assault. Former Browerville (Minn.) High football and basketball standout Seth Kellen discovered that the hard way.

The 19-year-old pled guilty to fourth-degree criminal sexual assault in district court on Monday, admitting to the digitally penetration of a 17-year-old teammate in March 2012 among several other disturbing accusations, according to the Minneapolis Star Tribune.

Former Browerville teammates and co-defendants Connor S. Burns and Seth Christiansen also reached plea agreements back in November, the report said, but neither received as stiff a penalty as the 30-day jail sentence and 10 years of probation facing Kellen.

The gruesome charges against Kellen emerged last summer, when he and Burns were charged with 10 counts of criminal sexual misconduct. In addition to the digital penetration, here are a few of those charges from the Minneapolis Star Tribune report:

  • "Pulling down his pants while in a Minneapolis parking-ramp elevator with his teammates and two student managers, ages 11 and 12."

  • "Jumping on teammates’ backs and hitting them with his penis."

  • "Sexually assaulting football and basketball teammates numerous times."

None of that sounds like ordinary hazing. Yet, Kellen's lawyer, Chris Karpan, continued to argue that those acts were not sexually driven, but instead "part of a common culture of horseplay and hazing that's gone on for years" at the small-town school.

What the case truly highlights is the always gray area between sexual assault and hazing, particularly when a hazing culture has truly taken root. While there is no question that Kellen's action constitute full sexual assault, the comments of multiple teens who were assaulted made it clear that they were never sure if they were being assaulted themselves.

That confusion among victims may have been a product of a degree of guilt for the plight that now faces Kellen and the others convicted earlier or it could have been because of a sense of anticipation regarding hazing within the school.

Either way, it's nothing to be proud of. If Kellen keeps his genitals in his pants and avoids trouble for the next decade, the felony charge will be dropped, according to the report. That may come too late, but it's better late than never.

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