Alleged rape victim calls for Hewitt's removal from tennis hall of fame
09:21, 05 Jul 2012
A woman who claims former tennis star Bob Hewitt raped her when she was his nine-year-old protege said he had no place in the sport's international hall of fame.
Suellen Sheehan, now 43 and a businesswoman in Johannesburg, South Africa, said it took years to overcome feelings of shame, guilt and fear that she would not be believed.
She and other accusers came forward last year to ask the International Tennis Hall of Fame to remove Hewitt from its ranks.
The US-based hall said on Tuesday it had hired a lawyer to investigate the allegations against South African Hewitt, 72, who won several Wimbledon doubles titles. The investigation could result in the first expulsion from the hall.
Hewitt, who now lives in the south-eastern South African town of Addo. A man who answered his mobile phone yesterday said he was unavailable for comment.
Ms Sheehan said it was difficult to speak out, but once she did, it helped her heal.
"To say his name now is easy. A year ago, I couldn't say it," she said in an interview. "I've actually forgiven him. Although he has to pay for what he did."
Hewitt played in the 1960s and 1970s, coached young players in South Africa in the 1980s, and was inducted into the hall of fame in 1992. At the time of his induction, Ms Sheehan said she was trying to block out memories of abuse that started when he began coaching her when she was nine and lasted until she was 14.
But last year, she and other women who say Hewitt abused them began talking about their outrage. She said she knew of other women in South Africa, the United States and New Zealand who also claim that they were abused by Hewitt.
They approached Hall of Fame officials, who told them they could do nothing because Hewitt did not face criminal charges, Ms Sheehan said.
In December, Ms Sheehan asked South African police to open a rape investigation. Peter Van Niekerk, a South African lawyer who represents Ms Sheehan and others, said a criminal investigation into the allegations against Hewitt had moved slowly.
The spokesman for South Africa's prosecuting authority did not immediately respond to a request for comment on the case.
Twiggy Tolken, 44, a South African now living in New Zealand, said Hewitt began abusing her when she was 12 and her family went to the police when she was 13.
Her parents later dropped the case because they did not want her to have to face Hewitt in court, she said.
But she said she saved letters he wrote to her that detailed his advances and warned her to keep quiet so that if anyone else came forward, she would "be able to say: 'It also happened to me, and here's the evidence".
"In all honesty, Bob Hewitt needs to go to jail," Ms Tolken said.
The hall of fame's former president Tony Trabert initially promised an inquiry last year, but chief executive officer Mark Stenning told The Boston Globe in May that none was being conducted.
But Mr Stenning said on Tuesday that had changed, saying the hall was now "doing the right thing".
"The hall of fame is where it started," Ms Sheehan said. "Now, I want him to be charged. And then, I'm done. Whether I'm ever going to get my day in court, I don't know. But he needs to be charged."
Ms Sheehan said that as a child she told her mother of the abuse, "and she dismissed it".
She counts the destruction of her relationship with her parents as part of the toll of the abuse, but said she has come to believe adults who knew or suspected something was wrong simply did not know how to respond.
Among others interviewed in the hall's inquiry was Heather Conner, of West Newbury, Massachusetts. Ms Conner, like Ms Sheehan, agreed to be named.
Ms Conner says she was sexually abused by Hewitt from the age of 15, when she says he forced her to have sex with him near a high school in Massachusetts.