Greek sailing champion Sofia Bekatorou recently opened up about experiencing sexual assault as a young athlete while training in the hopes of competing in the Olympic Games.
Known as an extremely skilled sailor, Bekatorou has dominated her peers in the sport. In the 2004 Summer Olympics, held in Athens, Bekatorou and her teammate Emilia Tsoulfa won the gold medal in the women’s 470 sailing event.
After sustaining a serious back injury, the sailing champion went on to win a bronze medal in the 2008 Beijing Olympics.
In a heartbreaking statement, given during an online conference aimed at protecting children and young people in sports, called “Break the Silence – -Speak out– Don’t Stand for it,” Bekatorou detailed the assault she suffered at the hands of an important figure involved with the Hellenic Sailing Federation.
After facing so much difficulty to reach the peak of her sport, including physical pain from training and harsh weather conditions, Bekatorou never expected to face sexual harassment, she stated.
However, as a 21-year-old athlete ascending to the heights of Greek sailing, Bekatorou stated that she suffered a horrific assault by a much older figure involved with her team, someone who she even had considered a “father figure.”
This man, referred to only as “X,” forced himself on the young athlete in the 1990s after she repeatedly rejected his advances, Bekatorou stated.
Greek sailing champion never expected assault from “father figure”
After he kissed her, Bekatorou stated that she “froze,” and “did not know what to do” after X’s advances, as she never expected her father figure, who she thought “wanted the best for her” to act so inappropriately.
He then coerced the athlete into his hotel room after a team dinner, Bekatorou said, even though she went into her own room, closing the door on him after his unwanted sexual advances.
When the man jokingly asked Bekatorou if she was scared of him, she answered no, but told him firmly that “there was no reason” for her to go to his room.
The older man convinced the young athlete that he was not interested in her sexually, and simply wanted to discuss her progress on the team in his room, she expressed.
X, an influential figure in the Greek sailing world, knew how to break down Bekatorou’s defenses, making her feel comfortable with him.
Taking advantage of this power over her, X proceeded to assault the young woman, Bekatorou stated, despite her repeatedly telling him no.
At one point after repeatedly saying no, Bekatorou stated that she tried to push him away from her, showing that she “did not have the same desire,” and thought “that he would respect that.”
The man, however, did not stop, the athlete said, and taunted her by saying he would stop “if she didn’t want it.” Yet he continued, despite the young woman’s repeated pleas for him to stop, making it clear that she did not consent to the act.
After the attack was over, Bekatorou stated that she left the room “crying and embarrassed,” and ran to take a shower, “feeling dirty and exhausted.”
Speaking about assault “could have divided” team, she thought
According to the Olympic gold medalist, X “took advantage” of the team’s lack of tight bonds, Bekatorou’s naiveté, and her fixation on her athletic goals, assaulting her without fear that she would speak up.
The athlete was scared that speaking out about what X, an important entity for the whole team, did to her would lead to the destruction of the dream she had worked so hard for.
Bekatorou feared that telling her team about the horrific assault “could have divided” the the group of athletes, which included the male sailing team, as they had not yet formed strong bonds of friendship between them.
Consequently, the Greek sailing champion did not feel comfortable speaking openly with her teammates about the traumatic event.
Fearing that her family would make her stop pursuing the sport she loved if they knew about the assault, the athlete never told them about the incident either.
Bekatorou found no outlet for her pain, except for another athlete with whom she had a relationship at the time, but she begged him not to react or tell anyone else.
The “hateful man” had “no limits”
Bekatorou stated that X, a “hateful man,” had absolutely “no limits” to his “sick” behavior.
After the assault, X never expressed any guilt or remorse, the Olympic athlete said. Bekatorou tried to separate herself from him, becoming more distant.
In response, X began to openly express doubts about Bekatorou’s talents and athletic capabilities to others in the world of sailing in an attempt to keep her from important opportunities.
Years later, after receiving therapy and becoming a psychologist herself, Bekatorou found the strength to speak out about the attack.
She also “takes responsibility for not speaking out then,” as she could have “gotten him away from the field of sports,” where he had the potential to hurt others.
Although she accomplished many impressive athletic feats after the attack and in spite of X’s attempts at sabotaging her career, Bekatorou lamented that the assault caused her to lose the most important thing, her “love for herself.”
In telling her story publicly, she hopes to encourage other victims to love themselves again by seeking help and speaking out.
Additionally, Bekatorou hopes that parents will believe their children when they tell them about such incidents, especially in the world of sports.
Sexual assault and harassment in Greece
Tragically, many Greek women state that they have faced sexual harassment and assault, particularly in the workplace.
According to research conducted around the country by the group ActionAid Hellas, an astounding 85% of Greek women say they have faced sexual harassment at work.
A shocking three in four Greek women who responded to the survey stated that they had experienced unwanted physical touching in the workplace.
One in ten women who participated in the research claimed to have been victims of attempted assaults.
Greek women in the tourism and service industries, two of the country’s largest areas of employment, are at increased risk. A shocking 22% of respondents reported suffering sexual assault or even rape while at work, compared to 13% among the general population.
Only 6% of Greek women who say they faced sexual harassment in their workplace reported the incident to authorities.
Often, women hesitate to report incidents of sexual harassment in fear of retribution or loss of employment, something that could be disastrous for an employee in a country with a notoriously struggling economy and lack of employment options.
Additionally, and most disturbingly, victims fear that their claims will not be taken seriously if they report them to the authorities.
Many women in Greece are unaware of their rights regarding sexual assault and harassment. Just 43% of respondents stated that they were fully aware of their own rights under the law in terms of sexual harassment in the workplace.