Vera Pauw: Irish boss reveals rape and assault in Dutch football

Vera Peacock
Vera Pauw thanked the Football Association of Ireland for their support in her statement

Warning: This story contains some descriptions of sexual assault

Irish national team coach Vera Pauw says she was raped and assaulted by three different men involved in Dutch football.

The 59-year-old, who played for the Netherlands and was in charge for six years, has been the Irish boss since 2019.

In a statement on Twitter, she said: “For 35 years I have kept a secret from the world, from my family, from my teammates, my players, my colleagues and, I can now accept, from myself.”

She says she was raped by a “prominent football official” when she was a young player – and later sexually assaulted by two other men.

All three were working in Dutch football at the time of the incidents, according to her statement.

In a response, the Dutch Football Association announced that it had started an independent investigation in the past, with the cooperation of Pauw, and admitted that it had made mistakes.

“We acknowledge the errors identified in the report and it should not have happened to her. It is unacceptable that Vera did not experience the safe working environment she was entitled to at the time,” the message reads.

Pauw added that in her time in the Dutch set-up as a player and manager she has been exposed to systematic sexual abuse, abuse of power, bullying and intimidation.

“For the past 35 years, I’ve kept the abuse private. I’ve let the memory of it rule my life, fill me with daily pain and fear, let my inner feelings dominate,” she said.

“For many, I am seen as a brash and noisy 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 says she has reported the violations to the Dutch football association five times without getting a satisfactory answer and has therefore recently reported the violations to the Dutch police.

The KNVB says: “At the KNVB we are very shocked by the experiences from a not recent past that Vera Pauw talked about in a conversation last year.”

An independent investigation “showed that the KNVB should have approached a number of things differently”.

It found that Pauw had been the victim of mistakes and harmful comments by employees of the Dutch Football Association and that the KNVB did not react sufficiently to Vera’s first “first signals in 2011 about sexually transgressive behavior” or had the right policy.

It said that in a subsequent conversation about Pauw’s experiences in 2017, she had “explicitly” asked not to take any action.

Peacock said: “That [going to the police] already feels like the beginning of the end to me, but i know there’s more heartbreak to come. Stories may appear in the Dutch media about my horrific ordeal and I know that claims may be made against me in an attempt to tarnish my story,” she said.

She says she hopes others who have had similar experiences “will now be brave enough to come forward and share their stories.”

Her statement also asked for “what is left of my privacy” and thanked the Football Association of Ireland for its support.

“I’ve always felt and still feel safe and supported in Ireland and I can’t tell you how good that feels,” she said.

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

A statement from the FAI said: “The FAI has provided her with all the support she needs on a personal and professional level.

“The FAI is fully aware of the impact these disclosures will have on Vera’s well-being and has assured her the continued full support of the FAI Board and all of her colleagues at the association.”

The Dutch Football Association said it will take action in response to the report’s recommendations.

  • If you have been affected by any of the issues raised in this story, there are details of organizations that provide advice and support at http://bbc.co.uk/actionline or you can call 0800 066 066. The lines are open 24 hours a day and calling is free.