Durban - After almost four decades of suffering in silence, another of former Hall of Fame tennis player Bob Hewitt’s alleged victims will be able to pursue civil and criminal charges against him.
Just days after a US state law was passed, Massachusetts teacher Heather Crowe Conner, 52, began criminal and civil proceedings alleging she fell victim to Hewitt in 1976 when she was just 14 years old.
“There is no way that anything can make up for what happened and no justice or money could recover or redeem what was lost.
“But having some sense of trying, to just hold someone accountable and face what they have done is important,” she told the Daily News on Sunday. The charges he is likely to face are rape and battery.
On June 19 Massachusetts lawmakers made changes to sexual crimes reporting legislation, allowing victims to report abuses up to the age of 53 – 32 years longer than the previously allowed age of 21.
As a result Hewitt, who lives in Addo in the Eastern Cape, will be facing fresh charges overseas.
Over the past few years, several students of Hewitt, now 74 – some as young as 10 – have accused the former International Tennis Hall of Fame star of sexually assaulting and raping them during the 1970s and 1990s.
The Australia-born Hewitt won 15 Grand Slam titles in his heyday in the 1960s and 1970s.
The former Grand Slam doubles champion retired in 1983 and in 1992 was inducted into the hall of fame. But after the allegations surfaced, he was suspended in 2012 and his plaque and all references were removed.
Three years ago, a six-month investigation by the Boston Globe alleged Hewitt had molested at least nine young girls, whom they had interviewed.
He is currently facing two charges of rape and one charge of indecent assault in the Boksburg Magistrate’s Court.
One charge was for rape of a girl under the age of 16 in 1981 at Sun City. Another was for rape of a girl under 16 in Boksburg in 1982 and the third charge of sexual assault of a girl under 18 in 1994 in Boksburg.
Conner said she had not actively campaigned for the law change but did speak before the state legislature’s judiciary committee “to show and tell them why the law change is important”.
She told the Daily News: “I do know it’s important timing for me because I just fit the age requirement for filing these charges.”
Conner, who describes herself as “private and quiet”, said she needed “a lifetime of recovery” after her alleged ordeal.
“I wish this (the court action) could have happened 39 years ago. It didn’t but it can now. It is difficult for me to see my life written as some story for people to read about.
“I gave that privacy up a few years ago because it was the right thing to do, not what I wanted to do.”
She was referring to her coming forward in 2011 to talk about the alleged abuse, but could not pursue charges because of the statute of limitations.
In her 2011 interview with the Boston Globe, Conner, a former US pro tennis player, said Hewitt had been coaching her as a 14-year-old.
She had said that as her daughters were now reaching that same age, it was time to break her silence and gave an interview to a Massachusetts newspaper.
The change in the Massachusetts law had come about as children’s rights groups and victims campaigned for those who had been abused to be able to seek justice even decades later.
Carmen L Durso, a lawyer for sexual abuse victims and a vocal supporter of the bill, told the Boston Globe its passage would open the doors of the courthouse to thousands who had otherwise been excluded from filing suits.
“This will give them the opportunity to name their perpetrators and do what almost all of them want to do, which is make sure their perpetrators can’t get to other victims,” she told the newspaper the week the law was changed.
Another of Hewitt’s alleged victims, Suellen Sheehan, 45, of Johannesburg, who claimed she was raped in 1982 in north Boksburg, hailed the US development on Sunday.
“I’m really happy for Heather. She has probably suffered the most because of the uncertainty (not knowing if she could pursue charges against him or not).”
She added that she hoped that the development would strengthen the local case against the embattled coach, because it backed the claims made by the women here.
“Let me be honest: we might never get closure...,” Sheehan added.
She claimed Hewitt had been using excuses of ill health and fragility as a result of his advanced age to avoid travelling for court appearances.
This, said Sheehan, was “deplorable”.
“I have fibromyalgia (a heightened and painful response to pressure, sometimes associated with depression and post-traumatic stress disorder), … so that is no excuse.”
Sheehan said she had also taken up tennis again, after leaving it for years after the abuse.
The Daily News tried Hewitt’s home twice for a comment on the development, but his wife, Delaille, declined to place anything on record.
During the ‘60s and ‘70s, Hewitt won all the grand-slam doubles titles, men’s and mixed open, including the US Open, and Wimbledon.