South African tennis star Bob Hewitt probed on child rape allegations

 

Johannesburg

Investigators on two continents are at last probing accusations a Hall of Fame tennis player was a serial paedophile, three decades after the alleged rapes.

But an advocate for child abuse victims in South Africa, one of the places where tennis star Bob Hewitt is accused of preying on young girls he coached, says the sporting world has yet to face the challenge of protecting children.

Also this week, South African police said they had completed an initial investigation into a rape case a South African woman filed against Hewitt in December. Police say they are awaiting guidance from prosecutors on how to proceed with a case involving allegations dating to the 1980s.

Hewitt has not commented on the allegations or investigations.

Luke Lamprecht, spokesman for the South African group Woman and Men Against Child Abuse, said athletes, their parents and coaches must recognize that pedophiles seek opportunities in sports, just as they do in church, school and other organizations where children can be found.

Lamprecht said sport officials may shy away from acknowledging that because they think it reflects badly on them, but "they have a special responsibility in the same respect that the Catholic Church does.

"They absolutely do need to acknowledge that they are a haven."

Lamprecht said he has helped church and scouting groups write rules so that adults know what to do when a child says he or she has been abused. Squarely acknowledging the possibility makes it harder for paedophiles to hide, but Lamprecht said sporting authorities in South Africa lack such protocols.

"It empowers parents and children, to say, 'I know this happens, and this is what we do."'

Officials from the South African Sports Confederation and Olympic Committee, which is the country's umbrella sports authority, and from the South African Tennis Association did not respond to requests for comment for this article.

The South African Tennis Association, like many sports authorities in the country, underwent a management change after apartheid ended in 1994. Terry Rosenberg, who helped oversee the transition for a brief period as president of the tennis association in the mid-1990s, said he was unaware of what information his predecessors had about Hewitt.

"Obviously if you're in charge and you had relevant information, you had to act on it," he said.

Lamprecht, who once managed Johannesburg's Teddy Bear Clinic, a center for sexually abused children, is familiar with the Hewitt case and has spoken to some of the accusers.

Lamprecht said a "coach predator" often starts by working to gain the trust of the parents.

"You have a person who can realize the dreams and aspirations of the child," Lamprecht said. "And those dreams and aspirations of the child are also often the dreams and aspirations of the parent."

In a memoir published last year, boxing champion Sugar Ray Leonard revealed publicly for the first time that he was sexually abused by a "prominent Olympic boxing coach" when he was a teenager. Last year in Canada, former junior hockey coach Graham James pleaded guilty to sexually abusing former NHL star Theoren Fleury and another player. In a statement prepared for the court, Fleury said James "skillfully manipulated us all, and eventually my parents entrusted my care and well-being to him in order to allow me to move to other towns and cities to advance my hockey dream."

In the United States, former Penn State assistant football coach Jerry Sandusky was recently convicted of 45 criminal charges stemming from the abuse of 10 boys he met through a charity he established.

The South African woman who filed a rape case against tennis star Hewitt, Suellen Sheehan, and another South African woman who accuses Hewitt of raping her when she was a girl, say allegations about Hewitt were the subject of speculation in the 1980s. Sheehan said she told her mother at the time, and her mother "dismissed it."

Sheehan said it took her decades to overcome shame and guilt and go public with her allegations, which she and others first took to the Hall of Fame. When the Hall initially refused to expel Hewitt, she filed the police case. The Hall investigation could result in Hewitt's expulsion or suspension.

Twiggy Tolken, who now lives in New Zealand, said her family went to South African police with allegations against Hewitt when she was 13, but dropped the case because her parents did not want her to have to face Hewitt or his lawyer in court. She said her father told South African tennis officials about the allegations, and then was shocked to see Hewitt being asked to escort young players on an international trip.

"They all knew, and not one of them did anything," Tolken said. "There was absolutely nothing done to stop this man."

Sheehan and Tolken have spoken with the Hall of Fame's attorney and helped put him in touch with several others who say they were abused by Hewitt.

AP

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