so brave | 

Irish women’s soccer boss Vera Pauw reveals her rape and sex assault hell

Dutch FA admits being “very shocked” by former star’s experience Coach at centre of allegation denies rape Ireland manager feels safe here and asks fans to support her
Vera Pauw

Vera Pauw

Republic of Ireland manager Vera Pauw. Photo by Stephen McCarthy/Sportsfile

Republic of Ireland manager Vera Pauw. Photo by Stephen McCarthy/Sportsfile© SPORTSFILE

Kevin DoyleIndependent.ie

Since arriving in Ireland almost three years ago Vera Pauw has developed a reputation as a straight talker who is taking women’s soccer into the mainstream.

Her reputation in Netherlands is even greater – but behind the strength and determination she has been carrying what up to now was an unspeakable anguish.

The 59-year-old has revealed that she was raped by a “prominent football official” employed by the Dutch FA early in her career. She also alleges she was sexually assaulted on two occasions.

Last Monday, the Ireland coach oversaw a 9-0 demolition of Georgia that leaves the Girls in Green on course to qualify for a World Cup play-off.

At the same time she was urging Irish fans to get “behind us to push us over the finish line”, Pauw was privately preparing for a major story to break in her native country.

In recent weeks, the Irish Independent’s sister newspaper NRC has investigated what happened between Pauw and the Royal Dutch Football Association known as the KNVB since she was a player in the 1980s.

Republic of Ireland manager Vera Pauw. Photo by Stephen McCarthy/Sportsfile

Republic of Ireland manager Vera Pauw. Photo by Stephen McCarthy/Sportsfile© SPORTSFILE

Journalists spoke on several occasions with Pauw and 25 people involved in her story.

In the conversations, Pauw spoke extensively and provided documents to back up many of her memories, although not all could be fully substantiated.

“I want recognition for the suffering that has been done to me,” she said at the end of one interview that lasted five hours.

During the interview she reveals details of a rape in 1986 when she was 23 years old.

While attending a football tournament in Zeist the previous summer she had met a coach. He was 14 years her senior and “an unmissable figure. Funny, confident”. Initially Pauw was receptive to his jokes and flirtations.

The following October they met again by accident. Pauw says she slept with the man at her home in the Dutch city of Utrecht but didn’t enjoy the experience.

She recalls that the man was not impressed when she told him as much.

“That’s my biggest mistake, that not all the alarm bells went off then.”

The next evening the coach was at her door again. Pauw told NRC: “He said: ‘I want to show you that I can do it differently’. And I believed that, at the time.”

During that encounter the man was again “sexually aggressive” and Pauw told him to stop but he didn’t.

“I did not experience it as rape at the time. I have always maintained: I was never raped, it was my own fault.”

Friends who spoke to NRC described Pauw as “totally devastated” after the attack. One recalled giving her Valium to her sleep.

“I was so terribly ashamed,” says Pauw now. “After all, I had let him back in myself.”

Last month Pauw reported the rape to police in Amsterdam.

“Because that’s what it was, looking back,” she says. It follows a report which she says helped her find some peace.

“For the first time, my story was taken seriously.”

Police may not be able to bring any charges because of the historical nature of the claim, but she says: “I’m doing this for myself. To take away some of the pain, even if he will no longer be prosecuted.”

She is aware of the seriousness of the allegation: “But I am no longer ashamed of what happened and now say it out loud, because I stand for the truth.”

When approached by our Dutch colleagues, the coach at the centre of the allegations reacted with shock during an hour-long telephone conversation. “I am stunned by the allegation.”

He admits, reluctantly, that he had an affair with Pauw at the time, but denies that there was any question of sexually transgressive behaviour. “Well, no. Nothing inappropriate has happened in that regard. Not in my whole life, by the way.”

He cannot believe that Pauw has recently reported rape against him. “That is not possible. I don’t remember any disagreements or problems.”

The first of two sexual assaults happened in 1997 when Pauw says she was grabbed between her legs from behind by another man involved in football.

“Bizarre of course,” says Pauw now. “But then I thought: if I want to function in this world, the consequence is that I have to arm myself against it.”

She did not report the incident to anybody.

In 1998 she retired as an international footballer. She had played for the Netherlands for 89 international matches, making her the Dutch record holder for both women and men.

“Vera Pauw: what a woman, what a woman,” was the chant in the dressing room on her final day.

But that same year she again experienced “sexism”. During a photoshoot she says she was grabbed in the crotch by another coach.

This time she turned around and challenged the man but again she did not report it. “I thought: nobody will believe me,” she says.

The name of this coach and the man from the 1997 incident are known to NRC and the police. However, Pauw does not want them named as she hopes there may be a prosecution in the future.

In her lengthy interviews with the newspaper, Pauw describes feeling ostracised in the years that followed by many in Dutch football.

In a written statement the KNVB said it is “very shocked” by their former international star’s experiences”.

Officials now believe they “should have tackled a number of things differently”.

“Unfortunately, Vera has been confronted in the past with a number of errors and harmful comments from (former) KNVB employees,” the statement said.

The KNVB also acknowledged it “did not react sharply enough” to Pauw’s “signs of sexual abuse”. That these were “sometimes veiled” “must not be an excuse”.

In a statement released on social media last night, Pauw indicated she fears there will be efforts made now to “tarnish my story”.

But she added that the memory of that night in 1986 has controlled her life for decades.

“To many I am seen as a brash loud football coach and manager, a tough woman who has risen to the top in a man’s world. Nothing could be further from the truth,” she wrote.

That already feels like the beginning of the end for me but I know there will be more heartache to come.

Shortly after the story broke last night, the Football Association of Ireland (FAI) said it has given its full support to Pauw “at this difficult time in her life as she makes very brave revelations about her past.”

“Vera has engaged on this matter with the association’s senior leaders for some time now and the FAI has offered her all the backing she may need on a personal and professional level.

“The FAI is absolutely aware of the impact these revelations will have on Vera’s well-being and have assured her of the ongoing full support of the FAI board and all her colleagues at the association.

“The FAI will be making no further comment on this matter and asks the media to respect Vera’s privacy at this very difficult time.”

In her statement, Pauw thanked her Irish backroom staff, the players, FAI and fans.

“I have always felt safe and continue to feel safe and supported in Ireland and I cannot tell you how good that feels.

“I hope that support will continue in Ireland for me now that I have shared my story and my pain.

“This is who I am, I don’t have to hide any more. I hope I can continue my life in freedom,” she says.

In her final Zoom conversation with NRC at the end of June, Pauw was asked whether she had done something wrong in all those years. She said: “I should have come out right away about the rape in ’86.”

Now she is mostly relieved, she says, that she has told her story.

“I am no longer ashamed and I no longer feel guilty.”

Then she looked straight into the camera and says: “I want people to know what happened and understand who I really am so that I can live in freedom again.”


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