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Olympian’s Sexual Assault Claim Sets of #MeToo Movement in Greece

Αssociated Press

Olympic sailing champion Sofia Bekatorou arrives at the prosecutor s office in Athens, on Wednesday, Jan 20, 2021. (AP Photo/Petros Giannakouris)

ATHENS - Allegations by Greek olympic sailing gold medalist Sofia Bekatorou she was sexually assaulted in 1998 by a Hellenic Sailing Federation (HSF) official in  his hotel room has sparked other women and athletes to come forward with similar claims and sparked its own #MeToo movement in the country.

As the news caused shock and outrage and spread through the media and society it has been picked up by international news and media outlets, with Politico and the German state broadcaster Deutsche Welle (DW) also reporting on the phenomenon.

Greece has long had a laissez faire attitude about sex, flirting and ignoring sexual advances and what women consider lewed behavior but Bekatorou’s case quickly brought a sympathetic #MetiSofia (With Sofia) movement getting broader now.

She made the revelations to Marie Claire magazine and an online conference explaining she didn’t report what other reports said was rape out of fear of hurting her career and dividing her team.

She didn’t name the official except to a prosecutor but Greek media quickly reported that HSF Vice-President Aristides Adamopoulos resigned after being implicated, denying any wrongdoing, saying he stepped back to prevent negative publicity for the federation and that the allegations were “false and defamatory.”

In a statement on the Hellenic Olympic Committee (HOC) website he said, “It is expected that complaints against me made by a public figure, of great recognition and wide social impact, will gather public interest, create feelings of compassion for the complainant and disgust for the alleged 'perpetrator.”

Bekatorou said she was 21 when what she called a “lewd act” was performed on her but that is now breaking her silence to help other women, especially the young, to be unafraid in reporting if they are assaulted or harassed.

“In this period, I achieved most of my country’s distinctions in sailing but have lost the most precious value of my personality: loving myself,” she said.

Almost immediately, more women - including athletes in Greece and on Cyprus - began complaining of similar treatment in their careers and elsewhere, including at least one university, and from sports officials and team doctors.

THE TROUBLED WATERS

Bekatorou’s fellow Olympian Nikos Kaklamanakis told local TV that he was aware of at least one other case in the sailing world, while Sports Minister Lefteris Avgenakis admitted that he had been told similar stories by athletes in confidence.

Political figures, beginning with Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis and the country’s first female President, Katerina Sakellelaropoulou, quickly rallied about Bekatorou, who testified to a prosecutor although the statute of limitations has expired and there could be no day in court for her or the alleged perpetrator.

Mitsotakis wrote on Facebook after talking with her that she  “bravely broke the chain of fear and silence” and represented “an act with great social weight,” and said other victims should too.

Two board members of the HSF resigned in protest after the organization tried to spin the assault as an “incident,” and demanded she provide specifics while it stood by Adamopoulos before urging him to quit.

The Stravros Niarchos Foundation suspended its support for a sailing program and her case dominated news headlines for days in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic and Greece’s troubles with Turkeys that brought fears of a conflict over seas limits.

Bekatorou’s decision to go public could still have legal consequences as Greece’s Supreme Court issued guidance to prosecutors to act promptly on similar allegations and to prioritize such cases, said Politico.

And then the stories started pouring out of the walls and not just in sports. The rector of Thessaloniki University called on prosecutors to investigate multiple allegations of sexual harassment made against a professor.

Zefi Dimadama, a Vice-President at the women’s organization of the Party of European Socialists, said she had been sexually harassed by a former minister at the beginning of her career - which she still hasn’t named.

“I had to fight with my own demons for years,” she said. “It’s not an easy thing to come forward, you have to face public outcry and all these questions: why now, do you want to get more place in the media, maybe you have provoked him, why is this important, maybe it was just a more manly way to show his interest.”

Maria Syrengela, Deputy Minister for demographic policy and family, described Bekatorou’s decision as critically important in encouraging more victims to seek help, even as domestic violence reports soared during two lockdowns.

“However, there is still fear, guilt and tolerance (of violence,), and this chain has to be broken,” she said, expressing hope Bekatorou’s courage would motivate other survivors of sexual abuse to come forward.