©2018 Aurélie Pankowiak. All rights reserved. 

Proudly created with Wix.com

  • White LinkedIn Icon
  • White Twitter Icon

My story in a snapshot & Call to Action

 At the time of writing, date, the content of this site is in development. An overview of my story can be read on this page. If you want to read more about it, please do keep checking in. I will be posting updates on social media as well. Follow me on Twitter or on LinkedIn.

Before sharing my story in detail on this site*, I want to introduce the condensed version of the phases I had to survive during and after my basketball coach sexually abused and exploited me when I was a minor, between 15 and 18 years old. On this page, I write snapshots of:

  1. Surviving the 3 years of sexual abuse and exploitation (2005-2008)
     

  2. Surviving the confrontation with my coach-abuser (2008-2010)
    how I had to end the abuse, the police investigation and the trial
     

  3. Surviving the long-term consequences of the abuse including (2006 - ongoing)
    eating disorder, dissociation, anxiety, impact on my relationships, and then ten years later, an acute delayed post-traumatic stress (triggered by my participation in a research interview for the European study on violence in sport: Voices For Truth and Dignity) ;

     

  4. Healing from sexual abuse: my therapeutic process (2017 - ongoing)

I end this introduction by providing a CALL TO ACTION for the sporting movement to end sexual abuse and exploitation of young athletes. My writings are very graphic, bold and honest - this is the truth, my truth. It may be challenging to read me. I invite you to have a read at my message for you readers and fellow survivors of (child) abuse (in sport) here.

*I spread out my story over separate reflexive chronicles on this platform and include the official 20-page report that I wrote when I was 19 years old to denounce my coach, as well my lawyer’s report. If you want to read more about why I decided to speak up in such a detailed and open fashion, please visit this page.

If you feel distress when reading the following, please refer to the resource page and consider seeking help.

This introduction of my story will give an idea about what to expect in my writings. It may also leave you confused and perplexed and that is ok. I was confused for a long time about my story too. I also believe the adults around me at the time of the abuse were confused. And honestly, even understanding everything today, ten years after, is still challenging and very painful, and, yes, confusing. So, in my story I invite you to reflect with me. I do not ask you to walk in my shoes, because I do not think anyone can understand what going through and surviving an experience like this feels like unless you live it. I do, however, hope that my story makes you think more critically about the issue of sexual exploitation in sport. I hope that my detailed account and reflections allow you to take a step back to try to make sense of how horror stories like mine unfold - to hopefully prevent them to happen again -  just like I have been trying to make sense of it all since the acute post-traumatic stress trigger I experienced on the 3rd of July 2017, after I verbalised my story for the first time in 10 years in an interview for the research project on sexual violence in sport: Voices for Truth and Dignity.  

 

1. A snapshot of surviving the sexual abuse and exploitation perpetuated by my basketball coach

   I started playing basketball at a young age. In September 2004, I was 15, the 2004/2005 season began and I entered the new age group that we call “cadette” in France (the 15 to 18 year old section). This is when I met the perpetuator, for the first time. He was 29 years old then. He had a long-term girlfriend who was known to the team and club community. He coached my team for the three following seasons.

The abuse did not start with one clear-cut event. It started relatively slowly and progressed until my coach had me entirely under his power and control. The first moments where things changed were when he began to talk to me outside of basketball practices on web messaging platforms, in April 2005. In parallel of this communication, when we were at the basketball gymnasium he started to lead me into the toilets and office of the facility manager (after the training sessions and the games) where he could have me alone. He would lock us in, and he would either hug me, or kiss me on my cheeks. I was so confused about what was happening to me. One day, he locked us in in the toilets, and he forced himself on me trying to kiss me. I pushed him back because I did not want him to. That day, he gave up and left me alone. This moment frightened me, but I didn’t know what to do. I thought of him as my big brother and I told him this.  He used my negative response towards his actions to guilt me and implied I was wrong to not have kissed him and that he felt bad that I ‘didn’t want him.’ I was manipulated, and I felt confused and guilty, so the next time he led me to the gymnasium’s toilet (two days after), I did not fight when he tried to kiss me again. He continued requiring me to come to see him in the toilets and the facility manager’s office, while asking me not to tell anyone what was happening between us.  The level of manipulation increased between April and June 2005. While he kept requiring my silence, he made our interactions look more and more like a hidden ‘side relationship’ from the one he had with his partner. He started to drive me places outside the basketball gymnasium to “hang out in his car”. This confused me even more and it made me feel and think that I was special to him. I don’t think a lot of young athletes would risk to jeopardise the feeling of being special to their coach… Unfortunately, this feeling also made me the perfect prey. This phase, called grooming, lasted for a few weeks and successfully brain washed my 15-year-old teenage self. This phase prepared me for whatever he wanted to do with my body for the next three years.

One day, just a few weeks after I turned 16, in June 2005, he took me to the forest near where the club was. He often drove us to the forest road because it was secluded. So when we went on this specific day, I did not think anything of it. But this time we didn’t stay in his car. He led me into the forest, stopped and then he lied me down, got me naked and started penetrating me. Yes, in the forest. I was confused, frightened and embarrassed. Because of my state, he did not “finish”... This sexual abuse was my first sexual “experience”.  A couple of weeks later after his first attempt, he tried to have sex with me again. This time, it was at his and his partner’s flat, and it worked.

This started the beginning of the nightmare…, which kept going for years… These years felt like what  I imagine it would be like to spend eternity in hell. My coach kept manipulating my mind, so he could use my body. He turned me into his sex slave. He made me have sex with him anywhere he wanted to, and when he wanted to: in the parks, the forest, the gymnasium locker rooms, the facility manager’s office, in his car, and in his and partner’s flat. [Once, as he was having sex with me at his and his partner’s flat, I was crying because I was in an extreme state of emotional distress. But he continued having sex with me and said “stop crying, everything between us is over, stop crying”. (Of course ‘everything between us’ i.e. sex, was not over at all, it kept going for another year or so.) He finished. I got dressed. He stood in front of me and demanded that I stop crying. When I didn’t, he slapped me in the face.] For three years, he trapped me in a dark ocean of silence. I was alone, and I was suffocating. My oxygen was the narrative and tales I had to tell myself and a few significant others to pretend that I was okay so I could survive this hell and function on earth. But really, my child self was very much drowning. He used my emotional despair* and my “stitched mouth” as we say in French, to sexually exploit me for three years. It is disgusting, degrading, humiliating, and extremely damaging.

*On this site, I talk further about the psychological state at that time, and how much I needed him emotionally, which is very telling in my discourse in my official complaint: “I was in love with him”. I was not “feeling in love” with him. What I was feeling was a very strong emotional dependency based on the “signs of approval”, i.e. that he only wanted my body, something that I could not understand as such at that time because it was coming from someone who had huge power over me as a coach, and because I was too young. 

You may be wondering: “why did you not say anything?”. Well, actually I did... Two women in my high school (one teacher and the social worker the teacher eventually referred me to) knew that “something was happening between me and my basketball coach.” They even knew “we” were having sex. I needed to talk to an adult. I was a mess at school. I was crying all the time and my grades were going down.

 

You may also be thinking: “They didn’t report him, nor say anything to your parents?” No, they did not... The social worker advised me to go to the psychological help centre in town. I went to the centre once or twice because they could not take me in regularly. Even though I was still a minor (I was not yet 18) the centre also said nothing. I have absolutely no memory of going to this centre. I learnt about it almost ten years after when I read the documents of the police investigation. [On a side note, there are a number of memories that I do not have from my story. On this site, I talk about what events my mind repressed because of the trauma].

My parents eventually found out about “the relationship” in April 2008, about two weeks before I turned 18. A few weeks after, my parents had me consult a psychoanalyst in Paris. But, the horror story with my coach kept going. “Huh?!” Yes, it’s complex… I explain below.

 

2.1 A snapshot of surviving the confrontation with my sexual offender: how I ended the abuse…

   In February 2008 I was in the first year of my Bachelor’s degree in Sport Science at the University of Paris Ouest and I was desperately trying to find a way to escape the never-ending black hole my coach had prisoned me in. Out of nowhere, I found a rope towards the light. A friend messaged me and told me that my coach had tried to force himself on one of my former friends/basketball teammates. He tried to kiss her at his and his partner’s house. I knew that was it. I was petrified, but I managed to message my coach that day. I wanted to take control for the first time and end it all. I asked him to meet me at the basketball gymnasium because I was scared to be alone with him and needed to know that people were around. As I stood in front of him in the hallway of the gymnasium, I told him I knew about what he had tried to do. He denied everything. He started getting very angry. I was scared that he would hit me, and I left. This was the last time that I talked to him…. until the face-to-face confrontation at the police station a year and a half later.

Readers' break

“Wait? What? So are you telling me that:

1. He sexually abused you in the forest,

2. He sexually exploited you for three years, you were suffering, adults around you knew and did not do anything to stop it, and

3. You are the one that stopped everything in the end, when you learned he tried to do something with one of your friends?”

Yes, this is what happened.

“OK so wait, how is that possible?”

Yes... I’m still trying to understand how this is possible, and this is why I want to share the 20-page personal statement I wrote for the police investigation as well as my lawyer’s report. I want to try to shed some light and raise awareness on the complexity of stories like mine.

As to why the adults did not report, there may be some explanation – (but no excuses) – which I attempt to bring forward as I unpack my story.

Some people may also wonder why I did not say ‘no’ louder or more times, or why I did not escape sooner. The brief explanation for now is: I was a highly groomed and manipulated teenager, under the control of my coach. I did not and could not understand what was happening to me. I was a child or, what one could describe as: “a child in an almost woman-like body and brain”. You know, teenagers… The humans who think they are independent but really, are still children who do not know fully know how to make decisions for themselves and still need parents and adults to protect them.

What I realise now, and could not understand then because of his control, is that I DID NOT WANT SEX. What I wanted from him was what any child-athlete - and especially those, like me, who identify their sense of worth and self strongly with being an athlete - would want from their coach: I wanted a mentor, I wanted someone who valued and approved of me as a basketball player, and I wanted him to care about me. But I was traumatised, and he had an absolute and enormous power over both my athletic and personal identity at that time.

I also believe I was not the only one he deceived in this story. He is indeed one of these men that all the parents like, that all the players look up to, that is civilised, well-articulated, is loved and respected by everyone. Sounds familiar? Yes, my story is not so different from others’. He is the regular man and ‘appears’ to be nice and polite. But, in the end, having this status of being a loved and respected role model in the community club, is the prefect mask for plotting a very well-hidden horror story.

Welcome to #metooinsport  2018 – the year the mask of sport sexual offenders starts falling off.

 

2.2 A snapshot of surviving the confrontation with my sexual offender: … how I decided to report him

IN DEVELOPMENT - Below is a snapshot of his conviction.

   He was given 4 months probation. My compensation from him was 4000 euros, which only covered the cost of the lawyer. He was not registered to the sex offenders list. He is still coaching today.

 

3.1 A snapshot of surviving the long-term consequences of the abuse – trying to control and escape the unprocessed trauma: eating disorder, dissociation and leaving France

IN DEVELOPMENT

 

3.2 A snapshot of surviving the long-term consequences of the abuse - facing the unprocessed trauma 10 years later: the confrontation with my inner demons, The Voices For Truth and Dignity research interview and the intense post-traumatic stress phase

IN DEVELOPMENT

4. A snapshot of healing from sexual abuse: “re-living it all again” in therapy, processing the pain and gaining my voice and power back

 

IN DEVELOPMENT

 

Call to Action

I want to end this introductory statement on an urgent call for action to end the sexual abuse and exploitation of children and young adults in sport: a crime against humanity. Young sport participants and athletes suffer many long-term consequences from such (often prolonged) abuse. The most critical consequence* that I have experienced is the desire to die… Yes, I thought of dying many times. I contemplated ending it all, both during and after my basketball coach abused me. The level of loneliness, hopelessness, self-hatred and pain that I experienced from being abused by my coach for three years is so extreme that death feels like freedom. And I do not think that my situation and feelings are unique.

*… beyond losing 17kgs in less than a year after the end of the abuse, and still suffering from anxiety, difficulties in my relationships and others which I explain on this site.

Sexual violence in sport has dramatic consequences. It is time to end these tragedies. No child in our ‘sporting families’ and our societies should have to live this hell on earth. We, humanity, cannot afford one more person to take control of the body, the life, and the dignity of young sport participants. Stories similar to mine may have cost, and will cost, the lives of our children if we, all of us, do not mobilise together. We need to continue shedding light on this darkest side of sport, face it, and understand it.

I am alive today because the vibrant part of me, the energetic and driven woman in love with life that I am helped me fight. I am alive today because several people reminded me by their actions that staying on this planet was worth it, that I was worth it: these people believed me and believed in me; these people were continuously present, listened to me and supported me in the darkest moments; these people empowered me and helped me speak up.

This dark note is not to turn you away from my story. It is, on the contrary, a message of hope and a call to action to the Sport leaders and lovers, involved at all levels: from the local - as a volunteer in a small community club, to the global - as a politician and representative of Human Rights. Violence, sexual abuse and sexual exploitation perpetuated against young people participating in sport is one of the greatest breach to the fundamental rights and dignity of humans. I am far from being alone. #metooinsport

 

Welcome on my site