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In New Book, French Skating Champion Accuses Ex-Coach Of Rape


In France, a retired professional figure skater says 30 years ago, when she was a teenager, her coach raped her repeatedly. She's one of the professional athletes there who have started to talk out about sexual abuse. NPR's Eleanor Beardsley has the story.

ELEANOR BEARDSLEY, BYLINE: Ten-time national and European French figure skating champion Sarah Abitbol kept silent for 30 years. Now she's just published a book in which she describes how her coach repeatedly raped her when she was at the French ice skating academy. He would come into her dorm room at night. Abitbol says she got the strength to finally reveal what happened from others who have come out against their abusers.


SARAH ABITBOL: (Through interpreter) It was very difficult, but I needed to fight, to get over this and to finally heal. I had just turned 15 at the time. Like all girls, I still dreamed of being in love one day with a prince charming, and he stole all that from me. This cannot be allowed to happen to others.

BEARDSLEY: Abitbol's coach, Gilles Beyer, twice her age at the time, stayed in his job over the years despite being accused of improper conduct by other skaters. This week, he admitted to intimate and inappropriate relations with Abitbol and apologized. Sports newspaper L'Equipe published an investigation into sexual abuse of adolescent athletes by their coaches in the 1980s. It pointed to abuse not only in ice skating but in women's tennis and swimming. L'Equipe's front page read, it's the end of the omerta - or code of silence. On Monday, French Sports Minister Roxana Maracineanu called for the president of the French Federation of Ice Skating Sports, who's been in place since 1998, to resign.

ROXANA MARACINEANU: (Speaking French).

BEARDSLEY: "Didier Gailhaguet cannot get out of his personal and moral responsibility for this," she said. But the 66-year-old says he's done nothing wrong and refuses to resign. Despite skater Abitbol's allegations being beyond the statute of limitations, the Paris prosecutor has opened an investigation. This morning, four members of skating's executive committee stepped down to protest Gailhaguet's intransigence, and several major French athletes, men and women, have signed an open letter saying they will no longer accept sexual abuse in sports. Eleanor Beardsley, NPR News, Paris.

(SOUNDBITE OF SPEECHLESS' "SOMEBODY TOLD ME") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Eleanor Beardsley began reporting from France for NPR in 2004 as a freelance journalist, following all aspects of French society, politics, economics, culture and gastronomy. Since then, she has steadily worked her way to becoming an integral part of the NPR Europe reporting team.