Having the courage to come forward

Published on January 12th, 2022

The U.S. Center for SafeSport was created by the United States Olympic Committee in March 2017 as a wholly independent body to investigate allegations of sexual misconduct in Olympic National Governing Bodies.

The organization was initiated due to revelations of wrongdoing in other sports, but now SafeSport Training is a requirement by US Sailing for all adults that work with minor sailing participants.

The need for such protections, once unimaginable, are on display as the trial of a Greek sailing coach accused of raping a minor opened in Athens, a year after an Olympic champion effectively launched the #MeToo movement in the country by speaking out about her experiences.

The case against Triantafyllos Apostolou emerged as part of an outpouring of accounts of abuse that began when former Olympic sailing gold medal winner Sofia Bekatorou smashed the taboo around sexual violence in December 2020.

Apostolou, 38, who outed himself in a newspaper interview last year, allegedly raped an 11-year-old athlete in 2010.

Speaking to ANT1 TV ahead of the start of the trial, the plaintiff, now 21, said that in addition to being “systematically raped” by the defendant, she had also been “physically and verbally abused” by him since the age of 9.

“It took me ten years to understand that a child cannot be at fault,” said the woman, who is not being named at her family’s request.

The young woman’s family initially decided against taking legal action to avoid the publicity of a trial. But the athlete said she had been “given courage” by Bekatorou’s revelations about the abuse she suffered as a child, and hoped her own case could encourage more victims to come forward.

“We must break the silence, punish abusers, and end any stigma towards victims of sex abuse,” she said.

Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis has praised Bekatorou for speaking out, saying she helped create awareness about the longstanding issues of sexual harassment and assault.

Faced with the scale of the problem, the conservative government has introduced tougher penalties for sexual abusers and extended the statute of limitations for the abuse of minors, as part of a package of measures.

The authorities have also set up an online platform for reporting incidents in real time and telephone help lines for victims. Since the beginning of the school year in September, sex education courses — including the concept of consent — have been taught in public schools.

But Bekatorou herself insists much remains to be done. “The #MeToo movement continues,” she told Marie-Claire magazine in an interview published last month. “It is alive because of the great number of victims of abuse.”

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