Former Olympic champion Sofia Bekatorou says she “did the right thing” when she went public about being raped by a senior member of the Greek sailing federation when she was 23, effectively launching the #MeToo movement in Greece.
“I did the right thing, even though it was late,” the 43-year-old mother-of-two told AFP.
Her revelations, first published in Marie-Claire magazine in December, led to a flood of Greek women coming forward with tales of historic sexual abuse.
“I realised that other people were in danger,” she said,
“It was the trigger. This person could assault other children.”
In January, Bekatorou, who won a gold medal at her home Olympics in Athens in 2004 and a bronze in Beijing four years later, gave evidence to the prosecutor in the Greek capital.
She said she had suffered “sexual harassment and abuse” in a hotel room, during her preparation for the 2000 Sydney Olympics when she was 22.
The man she accused Aristeidis Adamopoulos, who was immediately ordered to resign as vice-president of the Greek Sailing Federation and suspended from his position as a prominent member of Greece’s ruling New Democracy party in the greater Athens area, denies any wrongdoing.
No one will be criminally charged as the alleged offence took place too long ago but it has shaken up Greek society and given a voice to women who, for many years, have had to put up with various degrees of sexual pressure within the workplace.
Having become the symbol of the #MeToo movement in Greece, Bekatorou says she had waited to be “ready to speak” to “put an end to the stereotypes of Greek society”.
“You have to understand that sport is an extension of society,” she told AFP.
“In Greece conditions are more complicated for women.”
By revealing her rape, the athlete sparked a public debate on sexual violence in Greece.
Three years after the birth of the #MeToo movement in the United States, tongues loosened among sportswomen, students, journalists and actresses.
Several other female athletes stepped forward after Bekatorou’s revelation, while nearly a dozen other women have alleged sexual harassment by professors at Thessaloniki’s Aristotle University, one of the country’s top higher learning institutions.
Last week the former director of the National Theatre, Dimitris Lignadis, appeared before a magistrate to answer allegations of raping minors, including migrant children.
He has denied the charges and on Thursday Greek Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis hit back at accusations that he tried to cover up the scandal.
– ‘Protect the victims‘ –
The ripples from the pebble that Bekatorou threw in the waters when she revealed her rape have become crashing waves.
“It took on a big scale very quickly,” she says.
“I am happy because many people are speaking out publicly, talking about the attacks they have suffered and turning to the authorities.
“Unfortunately in Greece, we are not leaders when it comes to feminism or gender equality.
“We have a lot of progress to make so that women can assume important positions and show the way,” says Bekatorou while acknowledging and welcoming the elevation last year of Katerina Sakellaropoulou as the country’s first female president.
In 2020, Greece was at the bottom of the EU on gender parity, according to the European Institute for Gender Equality (EIGE).
And nine out of 10 Greek women have suffered sexual assault in their professional environment, according to a study by the NGO ActionAid published at the end of 2020.
“It’s unfortunate to have to play the hero to report a sexual assault,” says the former Olympic champion.
“Our laws must change and our society must change, to protect the victims and not therapists.”
It is already happening.
Prime Minister Mitsotakis announced a series of measures on Thursday ranging from tougher sentences for sex offenders to an extension of the statute of limitations for assault on minors. A digital platform and telephone lines have been created to “break the silence”.
Bekatorou the sailor has given up on qualifying for the Tokyo Olympics. Time will tell if it is the end-stop to a glittering career that saw her become a double Olympic medalist, four times world champion and two times European champion, not to mention the first woman to carry the Greek flag at the Rio Olympics in 2016.
But that does not seem so important to her now that she has also become the initiator of the #MeToo movement in Greece.
“I am trying to help where it is needed so that other women can have dreams,” she says.
“To bring back a gold medal to your country… was great but it did not last long.
“This change, I hope, will last and protect future generations.”