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Columnists

Letter from Athens: The Greek Olympian’s Cry and Greece’s Culture of Rape

January 24, 2021

Criminologists, cops, and doctors will tell you correctly that rape is as much, if not more, a crime of violence than sex and the sad fact is that too many times people – mostly men – get away with it because victims are afraid to talk or carry other fears.

Yet until June of 2019, Greek laws hadn't categorized sex without consent as rape and it still wouldn't if women's groups hadn't demanded the then-ruling Radical Left SYRIZA withdraw provisions in a bill that essentially would have made rape a misdemeanor.

But it shouldn't be surprising in a country where there are about 5,000 rapes annually and about 150 reported, said the General Secretariat for Gender Equality, which means 97 percent aren't, rapists walking around to do it again without consequence.

Part of the problem is that women traumatized by violation and the fear that comes with it can't go to a medical examiner for proof in 30 of the country's 51 prefectures because there aren't any.

“Imagine the suffering for a rape victim … to have to travel to find a medical examiner,” Grigoris Leon, head of the Hellenic Society for Forensic Medicine, told Kathimerini in 2017 about the dilemma.

When SYRIZA came to power in 2015, the party passed a law legalizing same-sex civil unions – but not marriage as then Premier Alexis Tsipras vowed before he wouldn't let same sex people take their vows.

That law, Article 347, also repealed a prohibition against a man seducing a male under 17, equalizing the age of consent for homosexual acts at 15 – the legal age of consensual sex in the country.

After the hue and cry against SYRIZA's attempt to let rapists serve as little as three years in jail, the change in the law that let – mostly men force themselves on women violently – came too late for the thousands of women before that who were victims.

That includes Greek Olympic gold medalist in sailing in the Athens Olympics in 2004 Sofia Bekatorou, who has come out to say she was the victim in 1998 of what was first referred to as a “lewd act,” and later described as rape.

She refused to name the official at the time, but when a local prosecutor called her in during an urgent probe, she is said to have identified Aristides Adamopoulos, Vice-President of the Hellenic Sailing Federation (HSF).

He was also an official of the ruling New Democracy but not for long after Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis swiftly moved to remove him and properly stood by Bekatorou, as did a raft of other officials, including President Katerina Sakellaropoulou.

She made the allegation to Marie Claire magazine in December, 2019 and at an online event organized by the Ministry of Culture and Sports about the protection of children in sport, saying she wanted to talk about her traumatic experience in the hope that young athletes would not be afraid to speak out, CNN reported.

Bekatorou said the assault happened in Adamopoulos' hotel room where he invited her to discuss preparation for the Sydney Olympics in 2000 and that what happened wasn't consensual – which wouldn't be rape under the laws then.

"I said no, I repeated that I didn't want to go on and he used fake sweet talk and said it is nothing and trying to be funny," said Bekatorou.

"He said he would stop if I didn't want it but he didn't, no matter what I said to him. Crying and feeling ashamed I left the room when he finished and removed himself from me." She said she didn't report it out of fear of hurting her career and dividing the team.

Compounding the disgrace is when the news came out the federation predictably tried to blame her and protect the perpetrator, wanting details, wondering why she waited 23 years to make the complaint which it called “an unpleasant incident.”

It certainly was if you were the victim, but just as SYRIZA had to backpedal fast enough in 2015 to win Olympic gold in that event, so too did the HSF which squeezed Adamopoulos to resign, which he did while protesting his innocence.

If it could be proved to be a crime, the sentence would be five to 10 years in prison but no one's going to jail because the statute of limitations for rape has run out, except for the pain Bekatorou, now 43 and with children, will feel in a life sentence for her.

When the law was changed in 2019, Eirini Gaitanou, an Amnesty International activist said it “finally recognizes the simple truth that sex without consent is rape and makes it clear that physical violence is not required for the crime to be considered rape.”

The reason deranged men rape women is because they can, thinking they will get away with it, victims paralyzed by fear or trauma and the injustice system often failing them.

Three weeks after the law was changed, American scientist Suzane Eaton was hit with a car, raped, killed and tossed into a cave in Crete, for which a 27-year-old man was convicted, a rarity.

Since Bekatarou spoke up, other female athletes have come out to report being victimized by doctors and sports officials, too late for them but not for those who could be saved.

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