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Greek Person of the Year 2021: Sofia Bekatorou

sofia bekatorou sexual assault
Sofia Bekatorou (L) and her sailing partner Emilia Tsoulfa at the 2004 Olympic Games in Athens. Credit: AMNA

Sofia Bekatorou opened the floodgates of sexual abuse allegations in the realms of Greek sport, theater, and cinema after revealing her own sexual assault at the hands of the Vice-President of the Hellenic Sailing Federation in January of this year.

Her allegations opened up a year-long national conversation about sexual abuse in many facets of Greek society in the country, one that mirrored the #MeToo movement in the US.

Bravely breaking her silence, Bekatorou broke a wall of stigma and shame that held many victims back from speaking openly about their experiences.

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.

Sofia Bekatorou’s shocking account of sexual assault opens floodgates

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 during an online conference aimed at protecting children and young people in sports, called “Break the Silence – Speak out – Don’t Stand for it.”

However, as a then 21-year-old athlete trying to ascend to the heights of Greek sailing, Bekatorou stated that she suffered a horrific sexual assault by a much older person involved with her team, someone who she even had considered a “father figure.”

This man, identified by Bekatorou as the vice-president of the Hellenic Sailing Federation, Aristidis Adamopoulos, forced himself on the young athlete in the 1990s after she repeatedly rejected his advances.

Bekatorou was afraid to speak out at the time, as Adamopoulos was a prominent figure in the sailing world and she was afraid of losing opportunities or being shunned from her sport.

The athlete was also scared that speaking out about what happened could lead to the  destruction of the dream she had worked so hard to join.

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.

Years later, after receiving therapy and becoming a psychologist herself, Bekatorou found the strength to speak out about the attack.

Support for Sofia Bekatorou

Bekatorou received an outpouring of support after revealing the traumatic event. Greek Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis lauded her for her bravery to speak out on sexual harassment, writing:

“Sofia bravely broke the chain of fear and silence, showing the way for the stigma of guilt to pass from the victim to the perpetrator. Thus, she became an Olympian of Responsibility, in the name of all: Women and men, children and adolescents.”

Greek President Katerina Sakellaropoulou also praised the courage of the Olympian  for speaking out against sexual abuse in sport.

“To all those who carry their trauma silently for years, not daring to denounce it, because they know inwardly that they will be treated at best with pity or suspicion and at worst with contempt, ridicule, and even social stigma,” Sakellaropoulou said in a statement.

“I hope her brave revelation will blow like a rushing wind and sweep any hypocrisy, any cover-up attempt away… It is time to end the guilt of the victims and the impunity of the perpetrators,” she added.

“It is time to build a value system in which women will not be treated as potential prey, their weakness will not be seen as consent and their silence will not be criticized as quasi-complicity,” Sakellaropoulou stressed.

Victims speak out after Sofia Bekatorou’s bravery

Bekatorou’s courage to speak out brought about a period of cultural shift in Greece, when many prominent figures in the country either went public about suffering sexual assault or were found to have committed the heinous act.

First, other Greek athletes spoke out about incidences of sexual harassment and abuse, and then victims in other realms of Greek society began to speak out as well.

After Bekatorou’s allegations, a cascade of charges quickly began to rain down on the heads of other prominent figures in Greece, including the famous Greek actor Giorgos Kimoulis, who is universally recognized as one of the country’s finest thespians.

In February, Dimitris Lignadis, an actor and the former head of the Greek National Theater, was arrested on charges of rape against underage boys. This came after years of whispers in the community about the actor that many argue should have been heeded years ago to protect countless young victims.

The director and actor is accused of raping two boys and preying on refugee children, one of the most vulnerable populations in the country.

Lignadis has been detained since February ahead of his trial for charges of sexual abuse and rape; he denies the charges.

“I have never expressed an erotic-sexual interest in underage individuals, nor have I ever had any erotic-sexual contact with any underage individual, with or without their consent,” he stated upon his detention.

He dismissed the charges against him as “lies” and claimed that the allegations were “fabricated” by the board of the Greek Actors’ Guild in retaliation for criticism from Lignadis over how it runs the association and handles its finances.

Once one of the most popular and beloved actors in Greece, Petros Filippidis faced his own fall from grace on a scale previously unheard of in the country after countless women who worked with him accused him of sexual assault in February.

It was at that time that the Greek authorities began their investigation into the actor’s alleged crimes.

An outflow of rage and disgust at the allegations leveled against the actor caused many prominent organizations in the realm of Greek film, television, and theater to drop the comedian from any future shows and sever all ties with him.

He was then detained on the charges of one count of rape and two counts of attempted rape in July, and is being held until his trial.

The charges were brought against the actor by three different women who had worked with him professionally in the past. The alleged rape is said to have occurred in 2008, and the attempted rapes in 2010 and 2014. The Greek actor denies all charges.

Revenge porn case sparks conversation

Just last Monday, Greek TV host Stathis Panagiotopoulos was accused of uploading to the internet dozens of videos and images of an ex-girlfriend that had been taken without her consent.

The allegations came to light after an anonymous Tweet was published that stated that an ex-girlfriend of Panagiotopoulos, who was on the popular satire show “Radio Arvyla,” pressed charges against him for revenge porn.

According to her police report, the victim was alerted by a friend that a sexually explicit video featuring the woman had been uploaded to a pornographic website.

The victim found the video and looked through the account that had uploaded it. Horrified, she discovered that countless images and videos featuring both herself and other women had been uploaded by the user, who she believed to be Panagiotopoulos. One of the videos had nearly 100,000 views.

She then searched for his username on other sites, and found that he had been uploading the revenge porn onto another pornographic website as well.

Panagiotopoulos was later accused of sexually assaulting three underage girls, and an accusation made against him by a woman in 2003 was made public.

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