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Olympic champion's abuse claim triggers debate in Greece

Olympic sailing champion Sofia Bekatorou appeared before a public prosecutor in Greece on Wednesday in relation to sexual assault accusations that have ignited a nationwide debate on misconduct and encouraged multiple victims to make their claims public.

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 while 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.

Greek President Katerina Sakellaropoulou welcomes Olympic sailing champion Sofia Bekatorou, left, at the Presidential Palace in Athens, Monday, Jan. 18, 2021. Bekatorou has accused an unnamed sporting official of sexually assaulting her in 1998 during preparations for the Sydney Games. Bekatorou made the allegation Thursday Jan. 14, 2021 while speaking at an online event organized by the ministry of culture and sport. (Alkis Konstantinidis Pool via AP)

“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.

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.

The accused official, who has been removed 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.

Olympic sailing champion Sofia Bekatorou, meets with Greek President Katerina Sakellaropoulou at the Presidential Palace in Athens, Monday, Jan. 18, 2021. Bekatorou has accused an unnamed sporting official of sexually assaulting her in 1998 during preparations for the Sydney Games. Bekatorou made the allegation Thursday Jan. 14, 2021 while speaking at an online event organized by the ministry of culture and sport. (Alkis Konstantinidis Pool via AP)

Separately, prosecutors in 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 have emerged as Greece 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.

Greek President Katerina Sakellaropoulou meets Olympic sailing champion Sofia Bekatorou, left, at the Presidential Palace in Athens, Monday, Jan. 18, 2021. Bekatorou has accused an unnamed sporting official of sexually assaulting her in 1998 during preparations for the Sydney Games. Bekatorou made the allegation Thursday Jan. 14, 2021 while speaking at an online event organized by the ministry of culture and sport. (Alkis Konstantinidis Pool via AP)

“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.”

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

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FILE - In this Saturday, Aug. 21, 2004 file photo, Greek 470 class skipper Sofia Bekatorou, displays her gold medal during the medal ceremony of the women's double-handed 470 dinghy sailing event at the 2004 Olympic Games in Athens, Greece. Olympic sailing champion Sofia Bekatorou of Greece has accused an unnamed sporting official of sexually assaulting her in 1998 during preparations for the Sydney Games. Bekatorou made the allegation Thursday Jan. 14, 2021 while speaking at an online event organized by the ministry of culture and sport. (AP PhotoHerbert Knosowski, file)