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Paris prosecutors investigate rape claims in figure skating

PARIS (AP) — Paris prosecutors have opened a criminal investigation following accusations from retired figure skater Sarah Abitbol that she was raped by a coach. Abitbol is a 10-time French champion and won a bronze medal in the pairs' competition at the 2000 world championships. In a book published last week, she accused her former coach, Gilles Beyer, of raping her from 1990 to 1992 when she was a teenager.

The Associated Press does not normally name sexual assault victims, but Abitbol has written and spoken about her personal experience. In a statement released Tuesday, Paris prosecutor Remy Heitz said the police unit in charge of protecting minors will also try to identify other possible victims in the skating world. Beyer and two other coaches have been accused of sexual abuse by other former athletes.

“I’m relieved, speaking out at last is bearing fruit,” the 44-year-old Abitbol said, speaking to BFM TV channel. Urging other victims to contact her, Abitbol said she did not file a lawsuit earlier because she did not dare speak at the time.

Beyer last week said he had "intimate" and "inappropriate" relations with Abitbol. “We were afraid," Abitbol said. “We didn’t dare to say anything about someone who had such power over you, we were ashamed. Now, people are starting to listen to women.”

Abitbol's book and a series of stories investigating sexual abuse in sports published by L'Equipe newspaper last week have triggered strong reaction from sports officials. On Monday, French skating federation president Didier Gailhaguet was asked to resign by the Sports Minister Roxana Maracineanu.

According to L'Equipe, the French sports ministry terminated Beyer's contract as technical adviser in 2001 following a report that highlighted repeated “serious acts" committed against young skaters. Despite the dismissal, Beyer continued his work at a local club and served several terms at the French skating federation until 2018.

"The weight of facts and their continuation over time illustrate that a general dysfunction exists within the federation," Maracineanu said after meeting with Gailhaguet, adding that he “cannot absolve himself of his moral and personal responsibility.”

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