#MeToo
#MeToo Greece: Women ending silence of sexual abuse

metoo
© All Womankind

More than three years after the MeToo movement in the US brought shockwaves to the glittering world of Hollywood, a former Olympic champion in Greece opened the debate on revelations of sexual abuse in this country, too, shaking politics and society. FNF took up the issue with a panel discussion with prominent speakers.

When former sailing champion Sofia Bekatorou revealed she had been sexually harassed by a senior functionary of the Greek sailing federation many years ago, no one in Greece thought her testimony would start a Greek #MeToo movement. For 20 years, her rape quietly smouldered. „I did the right thing, even though it was late“, the 43-year-old mother of two said when she went public about being raped when she was barely above 20. With this, Bekatorou effectively launched the #MeToo movement in Greece.

Bekatorou is no nobody. She is one of the most decorated athletes in Greek history, winning 10 medals, including an Olympic gold and bronze and four gold medals in World Championships.

The man she accused was the vice president of the national Sailing Federation and a prominent member of Greece´s ruling New Democracy party in the greater Athens area. The man has stepped down, but still insists on denying any wrongdoing and says he resigned to protect the federation and the Greek Olympic Committee from negative publicity.

Bekatorou´s revelations, first published in a prominent magazine in December, led to a flood of Greek women coming forward with personal stories of sexual abuse that have shaken up society. Three years after the birth of #MeToo in the US, tongues in Greece loosened among sportswomen, students, journalists and actresses. Inspired by Bekatorou´s courage, more women began going public with experiences of sexual harassment using the hashtag #metisofia (on Sofia´s side). A former member of the Greek water polo team, Mania Bikof, stated that she had been sexually harassed by the team´s doctor.

A few days after the world of sports were rocked by the allegations, former female students at the Aristotle University in Thessaloniki shared their experiences of sexual harassment by two professors, now retired. Also, a number of Greek actresses have come forward.

Prime Minister Mitsotakis endorsed the movement and told parliament that his conservative government would seek to toughen penalties for sex offenders, put forward changes to the statute of limitations in cases involving under-age victims, and ask courts to prioritize sexual abuse cases. „Greek society underwent a shock when it began to learn about its hidden facades“, he said. A few days later, he announced the launch of www.metoo.gr, a platform which aims to educate citizens about sexual harassment, sexual abuse, and authoritarian violence.

Despite all the support coming from Prime Minister´s Maximos Mansion, the movement lit by Bekatorou is becomimg a wildfire that burns uncomfortably close to the government. Culture minister Mendoni faces opposition calls to resign after two men accused the National Theater director she appointed of raping them when they were minors. Opposition leader Tsipras urged Mitsotakis „to do the obvious and relieve Mendoni of her ministerial duties“. „And he should apologise to the victims and the Greek people for his government´s mistakes“, Tspiras added. Mitsotakis rejects calls to sack his culture minister so far.

The former artistic director of the National Theater of Greece, Dimitris Lignadis, was arrested after turning himself in voluntarily at a Police station in Athens. He resigned citing a „toxic climate of rumours, innuendo and leaks“, he said, but still denies all accusations.

The MeToo movement in Greece is still at the very beginning. Encouraged by Bekatorou´s revelations, many more people will probably bring their trauma to light. Greek society has traditionally kept quiet about such abuses. Many victims felt they would not be believed, while others decided they had no choice but to remain silent. But now the dam has broken, and people find words for what they endured which for long had been kept hidden under their tongues.

MeToo Movement in Greece

© Friedrich Naumann Foundation

FNF, which has set itself the goal of empowerment of Women worldwide, took up the issue in support of the still fragile movement. In two panel discussions, people from the world of sports, including Sofia Bekatorou and Mania Bikof, and the world of acting, discussed the topic of sexual assault from different angles together with experts.

Contributing to a world where a person does not feel ashamed or powerless and forced to endure this pain and abuse without speaking out and reporting it may prove to be the best form of justice. And FNF will continue to contribute to this goal.

MeToo Movement in Greece: Full Film

© Friedrich Naumann Foundation