SLO police facing backlash following officer's comments on sexual assault

Cal Poly students react

SLO police facing backlash following officers comments on sexual assault

SAN LUIS OBISPO, Calif. - The San Luis Obispo Police Department is facing scrutiny following an officer's comments regarding sexual assault.

Police Sgt. Chad Pfarr, who is the city's head of investigations, made the comments in a New Times SLO article last week.

In the article, Pfarr alleged that an uptick of sexual assault reports may be either made up or easily blamed on alcohol consumption.

The quote from Pfarr in the New Times SLO article:

We get a ton of young people that come into town that have never really consumed alcohol before and now they're experimenting with different alcohols," Pfarr said. "Suddenly they have too much and they black out and the automatic assumption is, 'I was roofied and sexually assaulted.' More times than not, that's not the case.

Pfarr's comments have drawn harsh criticism from students at Cal Poly and advocacy groups.
"It's very alarming because we are victim blaming in our society and we need to take a step back and realize that most people don't make these things up.. no one is benefiting from making these things up," said student Saradon Gilbert. 

"Coming forward and feeling safe about coming forward is should be critical and the fact that an officer has said that students make it up...I was just reading the article...that is rather unfortunate," said student Matthew Medlin.

"It takes a lot of courage to report sexual assault. I think it's one of the most underreported crimes on campus and so for someone to step forward and talk about that I think is really hard and I think it'd be even more rare to make up a story like that," said student Sarah Arfsten.

Cal Poly released the following statement and resources for those interested:

The [university]  takes sexual misconduct very seriously and offers campus community members a number of resources for support and avenues to report instances of sexual misconduct.

Safer is the university’s confidential advocacy, education and support resource. More info is available here. (Safer’s page includes links to other on- and off-campus support resources, both confidential and non-confidential.)

As well, the university’s Title IX office receives and appropriately handles all reports of sexual misconduct the university receives (including reports made to University Police). 

In a statement, the San Luis Obispo Police Department said, "Sgt. Pfarr has conveyed that he certainly did not intend to minimize or trivialize sexual assaults. We apologize for statements that were not empathetic and/or sensitive to victims."

The police department said it's reviewing the recorded conversation to see if his comments were taken out of context.

KCOY 12 contacted the New Times SLO reporters responsible for the article and they said: "New Times stands by the veracity of its story and the accuracy of its reporting."

For the staff at RISE, a victims advocacy group in San Luis Obispo, they hope this will start a conversation about the trauma behind sexual assaults and the resources that are available.

"What we really try to promote is "starting by believing" because we know that this is a crime that's lied about just about as much as any other violent crime--about two to four percent. It's very rare for people to lie about it," explained Associate Director, Jane Pomeroy. 

The San Luis Obispo Police Department released the following statement and clarification regarding Pfarr's remarks:

The San Luis Obispo Police Department, wants to support and encourage anyone who has been the victim of any type of crime to report it as soon as possible. Sexual assault is an incredibly traumatic criminal act. We are sympathetic to the impacts on victims and we take every report and investigation seriously.  Sgt. Pfarr has conveyed that he certainly did not intend to minimize or trivialize sexual assaults.  We apologize for statements that were not empathetic and/or sensitive to victims.   We will use this interaction as an opportunity to reinforce and enhance awareness and sensitivity to this important issue among all of our officers and to ensure that we are providing the most supportive response and service possible to victims of sexual assault. There is an opportunity here to remind our staff about the trauma that is inflicted upon victims, and to assure the community that we are empathetic to that trauma and we do everything we can to bring those responsible to justice.

California law is clear after Senate Bill 967 passed that someone must give "affirmative consent" and consent can't be given by someone who is asleep or incapacitated by drugs or alcohol, all of our officers are aware of this law.

Our detectives and officers receive training in many areas of investigations. Sexual assault investigators are required to attend specific training through the Peace Officer Standards and Training (POST) board for California.  This training includes, but is not limited to, best practices in the interview process with victims, witnesses and suspects, as well as psychological and emotional effects of trauma.

The police department will thoroughly review the recorded phone conversation between Sgt. Pfarr and the New Times to understand precisely what was said.  If statements made were inconsistent with policy, appropriate training and/or corrective action will be taken, consistent with the California Peace Officer Bill of Rights (POBAR).


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