It was 1998 when sailing champ Sofia Bekatorou, 21 at the time, was sexually assaulted by a Hellenic Sailing Federation (HSF) official in his hotel room.
She has come forth with her story 23 years later sparking what is known as a #MetiSofia (With Sofia) movement in Greece several years after #metoo.
Speaking to Marie Claire and during an online conference, she said that she had not initially spoken up about her experience for fear of hurting her career and dividing her team. No doubt many thoughts were racing through the young woman’s mind as she tried to numb the feelings of ‘shame’.
But let’s not forget, it was also 1998, a hard time for a sexually abused woman to speak up, especially in Greece.
Greek socialist prime minister Costas Simitis had just taken over from restless womaniser Andreas Papandreou, who died two years before and was marvelled in his lifetime for being a man who stood up to the Americans and Turks, danced the macho zembekiko and for doing what he damned well pleased.
In his personal life, the tide of public opinion did not turn against him when he left behind heartbreak with countless of mistresses and affairs, including an illegitimate Swedish daughter and the bequeathing of his entire fortune to former air hostess Dimitra Papandreou, 39 years his junior, instead of his wife of 38 years and his children.
Bekatorou’s alleged rape took place just a decade after conservative Greek state TV made room for private channels with freshly granted licenses beginning ratings bids with the rise of ‘glastres’ (potplants) on TV shows – armies of beautiful, gratuitous sex objects blended into the set design. And media personalities like Nikos Mastorakis, Petros Kostopoulos and Themos Anastasiadis created a ‘man’s world’ just as women began to leave the kitchens to enter the workforce.
In those days, Greek society had a tolerant attitude to sexual advances and flirting, with society chuckling at ‘prudish’ and ‘hypocritical’ American voters who could not separate Bill Clinton’s private life from his job as US President. In 1998, a young Bekatorou would have carefully observed the vilification of White House intern Monica Lewinsky, a young girl like herself, who later became defined by her sexual encounter.
So for 23 years, Bekatorou kept her mouth shut, because she may have sensed that Greek society would not have been ready to accept the accusations of a young girl who had yet to prove herself as a revered Olympic Champion.
Now a mother of two in a post-Epstein post-Weinstein world, her accusations have opened a Pandora’s Box. The unanimous support she has received has prompted women athletes to speak up against senior officials and team doctors, while the Thessaloniki University rector called on prosecutors to investigate multiple allegations of sexual harassment against a professor.
Fellow Olympian Nikos Kaklamanakis said he was aware of at least one other incident in the sailing world and Greece’s Sports Minister Lefteris Avgenakis admitted that he has heard many similar stories, told to him in confidence. Two board members of the Hellenic Sailing Federation have resigned in protest and the Stavros Niarchos Foundation suspended its grant following the initial response.
The statute of limitations may have expired for the 1998 incident, however Bekatorou has testified to an Athens prosecutor and the Supreme Court has issued guidance to prosecutors to prioritize such cases of sexual abuse.