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Ti tha pei o kosmos?

Anastasia Tsirtsakis calls into question the use of the popular Greek aphorism, and how it reflects our value system

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Nikolaos Philippoussis listens during his arraignment at the Vista Courthouse in Vista on Thursday. Photo: AAP via Hayne Palmour IV/San Diego Union-Tribune/Zuma Press San Diego Union-Tribune

04 August 2017

Growing up in a Greek migrant household, it is all too common to be raised hearing 'Ti tha pei o kosmos?' (What will everyone say?). Such sayings have a way of making their way deep into your psyche, and has likely managed to kill more dreams than any other phrase I know.

So it's not surprising to overhear the aphorism being bandied about in conversation amongst family and friends during the latest gossip session, or to read comments influenced by this type of train of thought in the comments section of a Greek newspaper such as Neos Kosmos.

One subject that I didn't expect to see it appear in, however, is child sexual abuse.

Last week Neos Kosmos published a story titled 'Mark Philippoussis' Father Arrested On Suspicion Of Child Sexual Abuse'.

Greek Australian Nikolaos Philippoussis, 68, was arrested last week at his home in San Diego over allegations he had committed acts of abuse against two minors. The young children have now been revealed as two nine-year-old girls, at the time of the origonal story, details had yet to emerge about the gender or specific age; all we knew was that the alleged victims were under the age of 14 and believed to be students of the tennis coach.

Philippoussis has since issued a plea of not guilty to the 14 charges of sexual abuse he is facing, which include oral copulation and lewd acts with the two girls.

This scenario is surely any parent's worst nightmare. The first thought that came to mind when I read the news was deep sorrow for the poor children involved – with a massive side of outrage I might add – and remorse for the parents. They had sought out and entrusted someone in an authority position – a coach who had seen his own tennis player son Mark through to being ranked eighth worldwide - with improving their children's future and facilitating their development. That trust had (allegedly) been abused, in the most abhorrent way.

But for some, it seems an upbringing fed with anxieties of what other people will think constantly thrust upon them is completely inescapable, even blinding them when it comes to matters such as potential paedophilia.

Instead of concerning themselves with that possibility; that such horrendous acts could be being carried out and, at the very least, that such thoughts are being entertained about children and running through the minds of adult men (and in some cases women) some people in the Greek community seem to be more concerned about how it will reflect on the Philippoussis name and social standing.

During the week I happened to be in the vicinity of Greek Australians discussing the matter, when I overhead: "Oh my God, did you hear about Philippoussis? Do you think it's true? How embarrassing for Mark and the family! You know they used to live in Williamstown yeah? Po po, can you imagine? Ti tha pei o kosmos?"

To which another responded, "I know. I can't believe it! Rezili (humiliating)!"

Similar sentiments were expressed in the comments section of Neos Kosmos' Facebook page.

"What a disgrace! Not thinking if [of] others!"

While another said, "Foul. And he's a grandfather. Ntropi tou (shame on him)." - as though the familial responsibility that comes with being a father and grandfather should be the one thing, if nothing else, that stops someone from committing sexual abuse against children. Not the fact that it is plain wrong and immoral, without any possibility of consent, in a situation that is a complete power imbalance between coach and student; between a 68-year-old and a 9-year-old.

According to statistics provided by Child Protection Australia, in 2015-16 alone there were 355,935 reports of child abuse, with 12 per cent of substantiated claims being of a sexual nature. While we are often brought up to fear strangers, findings from the ABS Personal Safety Survey (2005) indicate that the majority (30.2 per cent) of cases are actually perpetrated by a male relative, 16.9 per cent by a family friend, and 15.3 per cent by another known person. So a person's social standing really has nothing to do with whether they are capable of committing such heinous acts.
It is shocking that with such information widely available at the click of a button, culturally we are more often concerned about what others will say and how others will perceive us, rather than what the reality could be. We prefer that the deficiencies in our lives be hidden away, instead of working on building and bettering our foundations. Because, well, appearances are everything, and so is the family name.

In instances such as these, some perspective is needed, and if nothing else, it creates an opportunity for people to stop and question their value system. Because ti tha pei o kosmos, is not a sound value to aspire to.

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