Former tennis pro and convicted paedophile Bob Hewitt is applying to have his prison sentence converted to house arrest, and the Department of Correctional Services (DCS) has said it will make its decision on whether to escalate the request to a court by early November.
Each of Hewitt’s three victims spoke to the Saturday Star this week, calling on the department to reject his application and ensure the 78-year-old remains behind bars.
Meanwhile, the way in which the DCS approached the three women to participate has raised questions from anti-child abuse organisations about whether parole and similar applications are another way in which survivors of sexual abuse are re-traumatised.
In a landmark judgment, the former doubles Grand Slam champion was found guilty on two counts of rape and one of sexual assault in March 2015, after abusing three women while he was their tennis coach in the 1980s and 1990s, when they were teenagers and pre-teens. In 2016, Hewitt was sentenced to six years in prison.
Last week, one of the complainants was sent a written request by DCS to attend a meeting with the parole board, or provide a written statement why the offender should be released.
She said the request was such a shock, considering Hewitt had only been in prison for two years, that she panicked, fearing he would be released.
She approached several anti-abuse organisations, including WMACA (Women and Men Against Child Abuse, who monitored Hewitt’s criminal trial), the Teddy Bear Foundation (TTBF), the Child Justice Advocacy Forum (CJAF) and the Reeva Steenkamp Foundation.
DCS corrected media reports suggesting Hewitt was applying for parole, saying he was instead asking the department to approve a court application to have his incarceration at St Alban’s prison in Port Elizabeth to correctional supervision, or house arrest.
Peter van Niekerk, attorney and director at TTBF, is representing all three complainants in opposing the application and the potential court proceedings. “It is wholly inappropriate and we will be fighting this if it gets to court,” he said.
CJAF director Luke Lamprecht and WMACA director Miranda Jordan said the way in which the complainants were approached was “deeply insensitive”, with little explained on how a parole or correctional supervision application actually worked.
Lamprecht argued that the entire process was “inherently anti-victim”, again asking them to detail the crimes they suffered and why the offender should stay in prison.
He said if a victim said they were still impacted by the crimes of the offender, it gave the offender the knowledge that they still had power over their victims. If a complainant stated they had moved on or started to recover, it gave the DCS the option to release the offender back into society.
Jordan also pointed out that Hewitt’s victims spent years trying to maintain their criminal case against him, and that if parole was granted, it could lead to other victims of sexual abuse being discouraged from reporting the crimes against them.
“He took away my life,” said the first complainant who spoke to the Saturday Star. “Speaking out against him lost me my family, my life. I was starting to get better and now I’ve been set back to the point when the trial began. By making this application, he is laughing at the (justice) system.”
The second complainant, who has moved overseas, said: “There should be no circumstances that allow him out; old or sick does not cut it. There is a hospital there and, as far as age goes, when he raped me he did not worry about my age so why should anybody consider his age. He avoided justice for years.
“We are living in a world where too many children and women are being abused and raped. What kind of message is the law sending if he only has to serve two years and then is allowed to go home, live in the lap of luxury and sit on his patio drinking sundowners with his wife. He needs to stay in jail for his full six years, no parole and no special circumstances,” she said.
The third complainant said: “People who are convicted of child abuse should not be granted any leniency or be eligible for parole. They need to serve their full sentence regardless of how old, sick or famous they are.
“We were all helpless young children that an adult took advantage of in the worst possible way. We, with the justice system, need to stand up and be the voice for the children that cannot heard, for the hundreds that every day in our country are being abused, raped and killed. Enough is enough.”