Olympic champion's abuse claim triggers debate in Greece

ATHENS, Greece (AP) — Greek Olympic sailing champion Sofia Bekatorou appeared before a public prosecutor in Athens Wednesday in relation to sexual assault accusations she made that have ignited a nationwide debate on misconduct and encouraged multiple victims to make their claims public.

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Bekatorou, who won gold at the 2004 Athens Games, has said a senior sailing federation official assaulted her in 1998.

She made the allegation publicly last week, speaking at an online event organized by the government. It triggered an outpouring of support from public figures, including Greece's first female president, and has been likened to the “Me Too” movement that followed the accusations and subsequent conviction of Hollywood movie producer Harvey Weinstein.

“I hope this helps other women to speak out if they have experienced sexual abuse so that our society can be healthier and less afraid,” the 43-year-old Bekatorou said after giving a three-hour deposition Wednesday.

The alleged offense has exceeded a 15-year statute of limitations but a public prosecutor has agreed to examine the case for other possible victims.

An official who was removed on Monday from senior posts at the Hellenic Sailing Federation and Hellenic Olympic Committee denies the allegations and has argued that the public furor has undermined his ability to defend his position. He has not been identified by prosecuting authorities.

Bekatorou’s revelation rippled to Cyprus where renewed accusations by Commonwealth Games and World Cup shooting champion Andri Eleftheriou that she was sexually assaulted by an unnamed sports official several years ago ignited a debate about the issue on the conservative island nation.

Eleftheriou met with the country’s Justice Minister Emily Yiolitis on Wednesday to talk about the accusations she made during a recent TV appearance. She filed a formal police complaint about the incident.

Yiolitis praised Eleftheriou for her bravery in stepping forward and promised her full support while urging other women who have been assaulted to speak out without fear because authorities have made significant strides in handling these cases.

Separately, prosecutors in the northern Greek city of Thessaloniki have launched a preliminary investigation into multiple claims of sexual misconduct made by former female students against two faculty members of the city's state-run university.

The scandals in Greece have emerged as the country is attempting to shake off a legacy of corruption and abuse of high authority, blamed in part for a major financial crisis that lasted for most of the previous decade.

Senior politicians publicly supported Bekatorou within hours of the allegations being made.

“It's time to root out abuses of authority against anyone in a weaker position,” Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis wrote in a Facebook post after speaking with Bekatorou on the telephone over the weekend. “It is a scourge that undermines the foundations of our society.”

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Kantouris reported from Thessaloniki, Greece.

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Follow Gatopoulos at https://twitter.com/dgatopoulos and Kantouris https://twitter.com/CostasKantouris