Education

#MeToo protesters march against Cal Poly, police handling of sexual assault

Frustration with the handling of sexual assault investigations by Cal Poly and the San Luis Obispo Police Department led dozens of women and men Tuesday to gather for a march and rally at University Union Plaza, a local addition to the international #MeToo and #TimesUp movement.

Speakers at the “March Against Rape Culture #MeToo” not only called for justice against reported abusers like President Donald Trump and movie mogul Harvey Weinstein but also Cal Poly and the university and San Luis Obispo police departments.

Katie Ettl, one of a number of speakers Tuesday, criticized SLOPD Detective Chad Pfarr, who was quoted telling SLO New Times last October that many women who report sexual assaults “conjured up” stories after getting blackout drunk. Pfarr was responsible for overseeing sex assault investigations as the department’s lead investigator.

Ettl also criticized Cal Poly’s Title IX investigation office, which handles all sex assault complaints made to the university, for favoring alleged offenders over victims. The Title IX office received 140 complaints in the past two academic years. Only 19 of those complaints resulted in sanctions, with only six offenders being expelled.

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Katie Ettl speaks before she and about 60 students marched through the Cal Poly campus in support of sexual assault survivors and against rape culture Tuesday, January 16, 2018. Joe Johnston jjohnston@thetribunenews.com

“Survivors have to suffer the chance of seeing their abusers in the classroom,” Ettl said.

The march led protesters from University Union to Dexter Lawn, before ending at the Administration Building.

There, protest organizer Mick Bruckner led the others in reading a list of demands for the Cal Poly administration, including that the university hire a third party to investigate its Title IX office and also to provide free, university-funded counseling for sex assault victims.

One of those victims, Melissa Giddens was there Tuesday.

Giddens shared her story with The Tribune in October, saying the Cal Poly Title IX office left her feeling like she was put on trial. Her alleged assailant was never punished.

She said she hopes Cal Poly takes the demands seriously.

“But I feel like they won’t,” she said.

In a response to Tuesday’s march, Cal Poly spokesman Matt Lazier said, “Sexual misconduct is abhorrent and unwelcome in all of its forms on Cal Poly’s campus.”

Lazier disputed the idea that the university is ignoring sexual assault reports.

“University administration stands firmly behind the campus’s Title IX program. Our highly trained Title IX professionals appropriately handle each report they receive and, whenever possible, investigate fully,” he said.

This story was updated with a comment from Cal Poly spokesman Matt Lazier.

Andrew Sheeler: 805-781-7934, @andrewsheeler

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