Landmark rape trial of Greek sailing coach begins

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It was the allegations of an Olympic champion yachtswoman that launched the #MeToo movement in Greece (AFP/WILLIAM WEST) (WILLIAM WEST)
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  • Sofia Bekatorou
    Greek Double Olympic champion in Sailing

The landmark trial of a Greek sailing coach accused of raping a minor opened in Athens on Wednesday, 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.

Bekatorou, who is a witness in the case, did not speak to reporters as she arrived at the courthouse on Wednesday.

She claims that she was subjected to "sexual harassment and abuse" by a senior sailing federation official after trials for the 2000 Sydney Olympics. She was 21 years old at the time.

Her revelations led to other women speaking up about being assaulted, and more than three years after it started in the United States, the #MeToo movement took off in Greece.

Over the past year, allegations of sexual assaults suffered by female athletes, students, journalists and actresses have been pouring in. Some of those speaking out say they were still minors when the attacks happened.

With the consent of the young athlete in question, Bekatorou brought the allegations against Apostolou to the attention of investigators in January 2021.

Prosecutor in the case say Apostolou "used sexual but also psychological violence against the minor so that she would not reveal her rape to her parents".

In an interview last year, the 38-year-old coach claimed the sex was consensual and that he intended to marry the girl.

"We were to be married and her mother had agreed," he told the Proto Thema daily.

- 'Sexual and psychological violence' -

Bekatorou, a gold medallist at the 2004 Athens Olympics, says the abuse she herself suffered cannot be brought to court as it happened more than 20 years ago and therefore falls outside the statute of limitations.

But her actions have already brought about change.

Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis has praised her 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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