For years, Pedro Elias was the face of Fresno’s branch of Planned Parenthood.
At news conferences and events, as the director of public affairs, he stood out in a sea of women advocating for reproductive rights: A muscular man often wearing a bright pink Planned Parenthood T-shirt.
But when his employment ended in September after working for the organization since 2000, his colleagues came forward to surmise why.
“He flaunted his advocacy for women while sexually harassing and assaulting multiple women for years,” said Sarah Hutchinson, policy director for ACT for Women and Girls in Visalia.
Several women, including Hutchinson, told The Bee that they were sexually harassed, assaulted or made uncomfortable by Elias while they were working for Planned Parenthood or for other advocacy groups in the Fresno area.
Hutchinson said her encounter happened after a business meeting in 2016: Elias pinned her arms down “with the force of his body” and kissed her face three times.
“Each time I turned my head so that his lips did not land on my lips,” she said. “I was obviously struggling to get away. I couldn’t move.”
Hutchinson, 32, who said she had looked to Elias as a reproductive rights mentor, called his behavior an “open secret” in the central San Joaquin Valley’s social justice circles and said she knows four other women who have been harassed by him. She said she thought about going forward in the past but worried about how it would affect her work and the work of Planned Parenthood, which already faces intense political criticism. Hutchinson made a public Facebook post about her experience on Sept. 24.
“Part of the reason why I never said anything is because I believe in the mission of Planned Parenthood,” she said. “I didn’t go forward because I was afraid to be a pariah…I know this person continues to be welcomed into spaces meant to eradicate his behaviors.”
Another woman who used to do social justice work with Elias said she was stunned to hear Hutchinson’s story because it is so similar to her own.
“He blocked me in a doorway so I couldn’t leave the room. He grabbed me by the shoulders and planted a giant, all consuming kiss on my face,” she told The Bee. “I couldn’t breathe. I was pushing against him but he’s a really big, strong guy, and no matter how hard I pushed, he didn’t budge. He didn’t stop.”
Elias did not respond to requests for comment. According to the Fresno Police Department, no criminal charges have been filed against him and no police reports regarding alleged sexual assault by him have been filed.
The women who spoke to The Bee, many who asked to remain anonymous for fear of retribution, say that Elias knew better. Before his role as director of public affairs, he worked for Planned Parenthood as a community health educator, teaching about consent, among other sex education lessons.
“A man in the women’s movement should know that if he’s actually interested in someone, the best way is to communicate and just tell them,” one woman said. “The fact that he takes another strategy, and is doing it over and over again, shows me he’s a predator hiding in the women’s movement on purpose.”
A spokeswoman for Planned Parenthood Mar Monte – the organization’s largest affiliate in the country, with more than 30 centers in California and Nevada – confirmed that Elias no longer works there, but would not release details.