Greek Olympic sailing champion Sofia Bekatorou poses for a photograph during an interview for The Associated Press, at Agios Kosmas marina in southern Athens, Feb. 4, 2021. Bekatorou is the most successful female athlete in Greek sporting history who rece

#MeToo

Greece ‘finally’ has its #MeToo moment 

An Olympic medalist’s sexual assault allegations against a former coach have opened up a conversation about gender roles, discrimination, power dynamics and everyday sexism in Greek society.

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Greek Olympic sailing champion Sofia Bekatorou poses for a photograph during an interview for The Associated Press, at Agios Kosmas marina in southern Athens, Feb. 4, 2021. Bekatorou is the most successful female athlete in Greek sporting history who recently revealed that she was the victim of a sexual assault, allegedly by a senior sports official in 1998. 

Credit:

Thanassis Stavrakis/AP

An Olympic medalist’s testimony of sexual assault has sparked a #MeToo reckoning in one of Europe's most conservative nations.

Since Greek sailing champion Sofia Bekatorou’s revelations in January against a top official in the sport, a wave of new accusations of sexual misconduct and other abuses by high-profile figures, including athletes and actors, has rocked several sectors in Greece.

Bekatorou, 43, alleged during an online conference in January that she was sexually assaulted by a high-ranking, Hellenic Sailing Federation (HSF) official in 1998, when she was 21 years old.

“I never imagined that in sports, I would face violence, let alone sexual violence.” 

Sofia Bekatorou, Greek sailing champion

“I never imagined that in sports, I would face violence, let alone sexual violence,” she said during the conference, which was organized by the Greek Ministry of Culture and Sports.

Bekatorou — who won a gold medal in her sailing event at the 2004 Summer Olympics in Athens, and a bronze four years later at the Beijing Games — said she decided to speak up to “preserve the health and safety” of young athletes.

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Bekatorou received an outpouring of support from big-name athletes and politicians, including Greek Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis, and through social media under the #MeToo and #ΜετηΣοφία (#WithSofia) hashtags.

Her story, and those of others who followed in her footsteps, have also opened up a conversation about gender roles, discrimination, power dynamics and everyday sexism in Greek society.

“It's huge,” said Athens-based lawyer Ioanna Stentoumi of the current moment in the country.

Stentoumi, who deals primarily with cases of gender-based violence, says people of all backgrounds want to share their stories of abuse.

“I’ve received a lot of calls from people who want to express their anger and say, ‘This happened to me, too.’”

Ioanna Stentoumi, lawyer, ​​Greece

“I’ve received a lot of calls from people who want to express their anger and say, ‘This happened to me, too.’”

Stentoumi said she hopes attention on the issue will bring about changes in the process for reporting sexual abuse. She said the current system deters and traumatizes victims — as police officers are not adequately trained on these kinds of cases.

Also, people who want to report rape and other types of abuse often have to wait days to be examined due to a national shortage of medical examiners, Stentoumi said.

'I heard comments every day'

The national dialogue unfolding in Greece is giving others hope, too — including some prominent athletes.

Related: An Afghan asylum-seeker lost his son in tragic boat journey to Greece. Now, he faces prison time.

“It was just sort of, finally, this moment came, I’ve been waiting for this for so long,” said Katerina Glyniadaki, a former player on the Greek National Basketball team.

Glyniadaki, who also played professional basketball in Italy and college basketball in the US, said that playing in Greece was a uniquely uncomfortable experience: There were the objectifying stares and remarks from people in the stands, she said, as well as sexist jokes and sexually inappropriate comments from coaches, team owners and managers.

“I heard comments every day,” Glyniadaki said. “Unfortunately, a lot of disgusting comments are disguised as humor. And you know as a female athlete that this makes you feel uncomfortable. You just don’t know how to put it into words or who to talk about this [with].”

Glyniadaki was a minor when some of this was happening. She and her teammates would sometimes talk among themselves but they didn’t feel they had anywhere to go for help.

“We didn't feel like we had the power or the allies to go forward and make this an issue.”

Katerina Glyniadaki, former team mate, Greek National Basketball

“We didn't feel like we had the power or the allies to go forward and make this an issue,” she said.

One reason was that there were virtually no women at the top. Even today, all 21 members of the Greek National Basketball Federation, the sport’s governing body, are men.

In Greece, the problem extends far beyond sports, said Glyniadaki, who has two master’s degrees in gender studies, including one that examines the role of women in Greek society. She pointed to statistics that show Greece lags far behind other European countries on gender equality.

Related: Widespread protests in Greece over coronavirus school safety

In 2019 and 2020, Greece ranked last on the Gender Equality Index of EU countries, an annual assessment. Greece consistently performs poorly in several areas, including the number of women in decision-making positions in government and beyond. Approximately 20% of seats in the Greek Parliament are held by women. Two of the 20 ministers in the current government of Prime Minister Mitsotakis are women.

Greece also has one of the lowest rates of women’s employment, and among the highest gender employment gaps in the European Union.

In this environment, conversations that challenge institutions still dominated by men have been stalled.

“This is a turning point for sure,” Glyniadaki said.

But people who are feeling empowered to speak are also facing a backlash.

“There’s … a lot of victim-blaming, a lot of slut-shaming. The environment around is very hostile for [women coming forward].”

Diana Manesi, Diotima feminist organization

“There’s … a lot of victim-blaming, a lot of slut-shaming,” said Diana Manesi, senior researcher with Diotima, a long-standing feminist nongovernmental organization in Greece. “The environment around is very hostile for [women coming forward].”

Gender violence starts with inequality 

Some abuse allegations have been met with skepticism and doubt. For example, after Bekatorou spoke up about the sexual abuse she claimed she endured as a young athlete, the Hellenic Sailing Federation issued a statement, calling it an “unpleasant incident,” and questioning why Bekatorou did not come forward sooner.

Related: Thousands of refugees sleep in streets after fire destroys Greece's Moria camp

Manesi, the researcher, said the way Greek media are covering these stories is also troubling, and she pointed to one particular example: Recently, another sailing athlete anonymously shared that she was raped by her coach 10 years ago when she was 11 years old.

Greek TV channels invited the now 38-year-old coach on their programs, where he argued that he does not “feel like a rapist.”

Manesi said this is all painful to watch. But at the same time, she’s relieved that the country is finally talking. She says many women she knows have firsthand experiences with abuse, such as being followed on the street or harassed by university professors. “I have stories to say, also. I think that’s important,” she said.

Manesi said gender violence starts with inequality — and until the Greek state gets serious about implementing policies to address it, she does not expect to see a real shift in Greece.

Spyridoula Athanasopoulou-Kypriou, a feminist theologian in Athens, has been thinking about the role of the Greek Orthodox Church, a powerful and influential institution in Greece that is led exclusively by men, in all of this.

“I’m adamant that it is because of the church that things do not progress,” Athanasopoulou-Kypriou said.

While the church has publicly signed on to initiatives to combat gender-based violence, including domestic abuse, it “perpetuates inequality and violence against women” through its teachings and actions, Athanasopoulou-Kypriou said.

She added that church leaders and members often undermine people who come forward with abuse allegations by sympathizing with alleged perpetrators.  

“You have priests … who will tell you, ‘Poor guy, he was in a difficult situation. It was the pandemic. He has some problems.’” 

Spyridoula Athanasopoulou-Kypriou, feminist theologian, Greece

“You have priests … who will tell you, ‘Poor guy, he was in a difficult situation. It was the pandemic. He has some problems,’” Athanasopoulou-Kypriou said, speaking from personal experience.

She said wasn’t ready to share more details about that experience.

Change is happening 

Meanwhile, dozens of people continue to come forward. Currently, the spotlight is on the arts and entertainment industries, where almost daily, new allegations emerge against powerful directors, actors and other men in the field.

“I can’t tell you how happy I am that things are changing,” said Thalassini Vostatzoglou, a young actor who is just beginning her career.

Vostatzoglou, who is the daughter of two well-known Greek actors, said she is thrilled to be entering the industry at a time when complacency, silence and abuse are finally being challenged.

Vostatzoglou’s mother, Dimitra Papadima, is one of the women who has come forward in recent weeks with sexual abuse allegations on the job.

Vostatzoglou said for years, the expectation in the industry was that abuse was part of the system.

“But a change is happening now,” she said. “And it is a big change.”

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