Former world champion Petra de Bruin speaks out about years of sexual abuse during her cycling career
Just weeks after the Dutch cycling federation, KNWU, announced its large-scale investigation into (sexual) intimidation, 54-year-old retired cyclist Petra de Bruin has come forward about the years of sexual abuse she endured as a young cyclist.
A former world champion and four-time Dutch national champion in road and track disciplines, De Bruin said that after decades of silent suffering, she finally found the courage to come forward and tell the media about the abuse that started when she was just a minor.
“I’m now 54 and I’ve had a lot of grief every day because of it,” she told the Dutch NOS news service.
De Bruin revealed that she had been sexually abused by a number of different people throughout her cycling career. One manager in particular, who remains unnamed, made her perform sexual acts against her will for 10 years.
“He took possession of my body. No one was allowed to touch me except for him,” she said.
When De Bruin first reported the abuse to the KNWU –years after ending her cycling career – the case went to mediation but complete denial and intimidation by her abuser left De Bruin feeling powerless and she decided to not take any further legal action.
“I gave up the fight and tried to move on with my life,” she said.
In order to fully move on with her life, De Bruin wants recognition for the events in the past.
“It took me years and years to say what I say now. And it hurts so much,” she said.
This news comes just weeks after the KNWU publicised its ongoing investigation into (sexual) harassment and intimidation in cycling.
“We think it is very brave of Petra de Bruin to tell her story. Openness about (sexual) harassment and the ability to discuss it is difficult, but it is of great importance to current and future athletes,” KNWU commented in a statement. “The National Federation has launched an investigation into intimidation in cycling and we will take the experiences of Petra de Bruin into account.”
Similarly, the Dutch Olympic Committee and Dutch Sports Federation (NOC*NSF) applauded De Bruin for her braveness and encouraged others to come forward as well.
“The story of Petra can encourage others with similar experiences to come forward as well, in whichever way. It is very important that victims of sexual abuse have the opportunity to talk about it with others,” their statement read.
The Dutch cycling federation started its investigation some time ago but went public earlier this month following recent developments in British football and a column by former Dutch pro cyclist Marijn de Vries.
In the column, De Vries admitted to being intimidated and even inappropriately touched by soigneurs in the past.
“There was the mechanic, who regularly pressed me against the wall and shouted at me for no reason. There was the soigneur who managed to touch my ‘labia’ every once in a while during massage,” she wrote. “I doubted myself. I didn’t say anything, because I didn’t want any fuss. And I was 30! I had a lot more life experience than my 18-year-old teammates, who lay down on his massage table too.”
Anne Loes Kokhuis, KNWU’s commercial affairs manager, told Ella CyclingTips that the initiative for this investigation was taken months ago, but that De Vries’ column provided the right opportunity to go public with it.
“The events at British cycling, with the track riders specifically, was our motive to start this investigation. But the CIRC report of February 2015, which describes ‘(large-scale) acts of intimidation within women’s cycling’ was also a very pressing reason for the KNWU to start a similar investigation in the Netherlands,” Kokhuis said.
“We don’t know the exact scale of the investigation yet, since it will all depend on what comes back to us through the questionnaires. On the one hand, we are hoping to hear no-one has ever experienced anything like this. On the other, that will get us wondering whether everyone has felt free to speak up.”
In our article last week, Marianne Vos and Riejanne Markus encouraged riders to speak up.
“I’m glad that it is possible to discuss this topic now, and that it is done by an independent research organization,” Vos told Ella CyclingTips. “Personally, I have never experienced anything along the lines of harassment, but for those that have, there is now a real opportunity to speak up.”
We will continue to follow this topic as the investigation continues or as more news comes to light.