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Monday, May 17, 2021

The Greek #MeToo movement gains momentum because Greece’s Athlete A had the courage to speak out about her abuse

Joanne Trikoulis
Joanne Trikoulis
Joanne Trikoulis is a contributing editor and is based in Athens, Greece. She is the CEO & Founder of Axion-Ellas. The opinions expressed by our authors do not necessarily reflect the opinions of HNA and its representatives.

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Recently, in some countries around the world, there has been an undertone that the #Metoo movement should come to an end; however, here in Greece, the movement appears to be just beginning.  In an age of social media, it is easy to brand a movement as a “fad” because it garners so much attention from media and news outlets.  The attention and focus on people’s personal #MeToo stories become the basis of movies, documentaries, and podcasts. The stakes are often high for people sharing their personal stories.  Such stakes include but are not limited to, Olympic Gold Medals, academic degrees, and various careers.  People’s personal #MeToo stories allow us to see the truth about abuse of power, sexual, verbal, and physical abuse that occurs often in our society. 

A few months ago, “Athlete A” named after the first anonymous gymnast to report the abuse she had endured at the hands of the USA team medical doctor debuted on Netflix.  The documentary revealed a toxic culture behind the USA Gymnastics Organization, which included selection and training techniques that produced champions but made these athletes vulnerable to abuse.  The abuse ranged from verbal, mental, physical, and sexual abuse.  As the victims’ testimony indicated, this type of environment allowed for someone that was “nice” to the vulnerable athletes, to abuse them in various ways by first gaining their trust. The documentary exposes decades of cover-ups by the organization in order to protect the “brand name” of the federation and to retain sponsors. However, when the team doctor, Larry Nassar, was convicted of sexual crimes in 2017, pandora’s box was opened. With his conviction came the resignation of many high-ranking federation executives which caused a ripple effect on the entire sports world.  What we understood from this high-profile case was how the fine-line between “tough coaching” and physical and mental abuse can be blurred when families and athletes have poured their heart, soul, and investments into achieving a dream.  

A few weeks ago, in Greece, Sofia Bekatorou, a two-time sailing Olympic medalist (Gold in Athens 2014 and Bronze in Beijing 2018) broke her silence about the sexual assault she endured at age 21 by a male official from the Hellenic Sailing Federation. In her testimony, she explained that she never revealed the incident until now because the assaulter was someone she trusted. He was someone that was very vocal in supporting her and her teammates in whatever they needed to prepare for the 1998 Sydney Olympics; therefore, she did not want to ruin her own or her team’s efforts on the Olympic road to a medal.  Ignited by the courage of Sofia Bekatorou to speak out, other female athletes were quick to follow. They subsequently came forward with their own experiences of verbal abuse, inappropriate sexual remarks, and gestures from coaches, team doctors, and federation representatives. A former member of the Greek water polo team, Mania Bikof, stated that she had been sexually harassed by the team’s doctor, who told her to completely remove her bathing suit, while the medical injury he was attending to was in her shoulder.  Former World Champion swimmer, Rabea Iatridou also described a similar experience where although the doctor was examining a knee injury, he asked her to take off all her clothes and proceeded to grope her. Olympic Silver Medalist, Niki Bakogianni said she too had been sexually harassed by someone of authority and a prominent member of the Hellenic Athletics Federation.  Marina Psychogyiou, also a sailing champion, described a similar incident when a federation executive offered her a ride home and tried to touch and kiss her telling her not to be afraid and that it would be for her benefit.

A few days after the world of sports in Greece had been rocked by these allegations, former female students at the Aristotle University in Thessaloniki shared their experiences of sexual harassment by two, now retired, professors. The allegations were that these professors performed lewd sexual acts in their office when discussing their grades.

Three years since the effort to affect social change, the #MeToo movement followed the allegations of sexual misconduct in Hollywood and led to the subsequent conviction of director Harvey Weinstein. This also set the stage for the re-prosecution of US multimillionaire Jeffrey Epstein for multiple sex offenses and sex trafficking.  Now similar allegations have reached the Greek ancient stages and birthplace of theatre.  No longer feeling ashamed and better equipped to deal with the psychological victim-shaming by those who are quick to judge, various Greek actresses have come forward. They include Zeta Douka, Alexandra Tavoulari, Evdokia Roumelioti, Katerina Papoutsaki, Fay Xyla, and Katerina Lehou. These women have spoken up about their experiences of being bullied and psychologically abused by their co-worker, actor Giorgos Kimoulis.  Three actresses, Jenny Botsi, Aggeliki Lampri, and Loukia Mihala also came out accusing actor/director Kostas Spyropoulos of sexual harassment.  As the days unfold and complaints are closely examined by the authorities, an even more disturbing wave of possible pedophile and child pornography/trafficking rings are emerging in Greece. 

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With women and men coming forward with stories about sexual abuse, workplace sexual harassment, and workplace intimidation comes a ray of hope that has not been witnessed before in the Greek community, which historically has kept quiet about such abuses.  Many kept quiet because they felt they would not be believed, while others feared they would be shamed.  Yet others felt they had no choice but to remain silent and struggle with abuse, in hopes that they would have a chance to achieve their goals and dreams.  

Our past Greek society of limited career opportunities, limited athletic funding, and a limited judicial system, have also kept abuse victims silent about these various types of abuse, sexual misconduct, and workplace intimidation.  Greece, which consists of numerous small communities, the perpetrator may be a member of the family or a friend of a friend of the family.  In other cases, the perpetrator may be a mentor in a small academic or sports league.  Even worse, the perpetrator may be in an authoritative position in the workplace in this small suffering economy, with limited jobs enhancing the fear of losing one’s livelihood.  These limitations often open the door for injustices to happen.   There are still too many people around us that are dealing with real and traumatic experiences related to abuse but feel the urge to share their experiences to create a far better future in Greek society with less fear, more courage, and justice and accountability for the next generation.

Greece’s Athlete A, Sofia Bekatorou’s alleged assault has exceeded the 15-year statute of limitations and therefore was dismissed.  Additionally, to this date, there has only been one case officially filed against a well-known director.  In both instances, investigations into further victims’ testimonies are ongoing with the hopes of somehow bringing justice to the victims.  A positive note in the aftermath is that the Greek Justice Minister, Kostas Tsiaras, announced that the government plans to make changes in the legal system so that it is easier for sexual assault victims to report such crimes.  But most importantly, recreating a society where a person does not feel ashamed or feel powerless and forced to endure this pain and abuse without speaking out and reporting will prove to be the best form of justice for all.

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