Bob Hohler, Pain continues for Bob Hewitt’s child sex abuse victims, The Boston Globe

Disgraced tennis titan Bob Hewitt sat before a sentencing judge Friday a broken man, a 75-year-old convicted child molester stripped of his Hall of Fame glory, his exalted social status from Flushing Meadows to Monte Carlo, his comfy retirement on a lush South African citrus farm. He slumped in the defendant’s box, propping up his head with his withering hand.

“Don’t you think he’s too old to go to prison?’’ a schoolgirl recently asked Suellen Sheehan, who was 12 when Hewitt, then 42, raped her in 1982.
“Don’t you think I was too young to have sex when I was 12?’’ Sheehan replied.

Mercy may come to Hewitt if an appeals court tosses his convictions or the judge who found him guilty of raping two South African girls he coached and sexually assaulting another spares him from spending his final days behind bars. His sentencing was postponed Friday until May 18, when a defense psychologist will make a case for leniency rather than a possible 15-year prison term.

But there has been little mercy for the women whose innocence Hewitt plundered, whose lives he tattered, whose families he fractured. The former tennis great has left a trail of trauma since he allegedly waged a predatory spree from Boston to the former African republic of Bophuthatswana from the 1970s to the ’90s.

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Sentencing postponed for disgraced tennis star
Hewitt, a former Boston area tennis instructor, was convicted last month on rape and sexual assault charges in South Africa.
Disgraced tennis star Bob Hewitt convicted of rape
Hewitt accused in abuse of young girls

In 1976, Heather Crowe Conner was 14 when Hewitt began coaching her at a Danvers racquet club after he played for the Boston Lobsters. She said he began raping her soon after.

Conner, who triggered a 2011 Globe investigation that led to the criminal charges in South Africa, was unable to attend Friday’s hearing. But like Hewitt’s South African victims, she lives daily with the aftershocks of her experience with him.

‘I am doing whatever I can to get back what he took from me.’

Suellen Sheehan, a victim of Bob Hewitt
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A married mother of two girls who teaches at Reading Memorial High School, Conner has long battled severe emotional distress she attributes to his “hijacking my life.’’

“I would say I suffer from identity confusion, depression, and exhaustion from living with the pretense that I am doing great,’’ Conner said.

“I’m working to gain control so he will no longer have any hold on me,’’ she said. “I experience isolation, no close friendships, fear, hypervigilance, and intense symptoms of PTSD [post-traumatic stress disorder].’’

Conner is unable to discuss Hewitt with her family because it has proven too painful. Sheehan is estranged from her closest relatives, including her son and two grandchildren. And Theresa “Twiggy” Tolken, who was 13 in 1980 when Hewitt raped her at the Sun City resort in Bophuthatswana, now part of South Africa, said “he has taken so much from my family’’ — serenity, stability, a sense of security.

Heather Crowe Conner has long suffered emotionally because of Bob Hewitt.

Heather Crowe Conner has long suffered emotionally because of Bob Hewitt.

Hewitt also factored in the evolution of Tolken’s sexuality. She has twin 8-year-old girls with her female partner of nearly 20 years. She previously was married to a man, but she said she was unable to sustain the relationship, partly because of her lingering disgust with Hewitt raping her.

“I’ll be honest, I don’t trust men,’’ she said. “At the end of the day, I believe everybody who is gay was born gay, but there are certain things in your life that make you come out with it. I don’t think there was any way the experience with [Hewitt] did any good to who I am.’’

Had Hewitt been prosecuted in an American court, as Conner hoped when she filed a criminal complaint against him in 2010, his victims could offer an impact statement before his sentencing. But the High Court of South Africa does not afford victims that opportunity, so while Hewitt’s legal team prepares to offer medical and psychological testimony to try to reduce his sentence, his victims can do little but observe.

Tolken cannot tell the court about her own hypervigilance. She said she is so fearful of a predator exploiting her children as Hewitt abused her that her girls never have spent the night at a friend’s house, never have been alone with another adult.

“My partner or I are with them all the time,’’ Tolken said. “All my friends think I am crazy. Sometimes they get a bit offended because they don’t understand why they can’t take the kids.’’

Tolken’s parents were close friends of Hewitt and never imagined he would sexually molest their daughter before she was old enough to know what “rape’’ meant. The most compelling evidence against him at trial seemed to be several secret love letters he wrote her at the time, which she saved.

“I am cross with you for not trusting me,’’ one letter stated. “I can only assume you think of me as a sex maniac. Believe me, I’m not. My heart is going faster and faster because in 40 minutes I will see you again.’’

At the end of his next note to the 13-year-old, Hewitt wrote, “Destroy this [letter] and the last one NOW. I love you.’’

Tolken’s mother, Colleen, said she has been anguished for more than 30 years by the episode.

“It’s something I can never forget,’’ she said. “It’s a nightmare.’’

Tolken’s sister, Karen, the first person she told about the rape, spent many years in South Africa helping victims of sexual assault. She now lives in Hewitt’s native Australia, while Twiggy and her mother have settled in New Zealand.

Conner went on to win a Massachusetts high school singles championship at Masconomet Regional, a national collegiate title at Indiana University, and played professionally against the stars of the 1980s until she retired at 28. She suspects her family also has been shaken by her abuse, though she is unable to discuss it with them.

“I don’t live in their shoes, but I imagine my parents were hurt only as parents of a child can be,’’ she said. “And as a sister to three siblings, I can imagine that seeing their baby sister being hurt in this way is unconscionable.’’

In Hewitt’s heyday, he established himself as one of the all-time great doubles players, a 15-time Grand Slam champion in the 1960s and ’70s, when professional tennis ranked among the world’s most popular sports. He played among such superstars as Arthur Ashe, Jimmy Connors, John McEnroe, and Bjorn Borg, and was inducted into the International Tennis Hall of Fame in 1992 (he was removed in 2012 because of the abuse allegations).

Arrogant and often insulting on the court, Hewitt was described by legendary Globe tennis writer Bud Collins as possessing “one of the vilest tempers in sports.’’

He sometimes paid for his provocations. In 1969, a British rival, Roger Taylor, laid out Hewitt with a vicious uppercut. In 1970, he was pummeled and hospitalized by an angry, elderly spectator. And in 1975 he exchanged blows with an opponent during his star turn with the Lobsters.

But in his secret life, Hewitt possessed what a prosecutor described as the cunning of a pedophile. Seven women have now agreed to be publicly identified by the Globe as having been sexually assaulted or harassed by Hewitt after he preyed on them as minors he was coaching.

The most recent is Leigh-Ann Taylor, who said Friday she was prompted to disclose the abuse while following Hewitt’s trial. He coached her during the same period as Tolken and Sheehan.

“I buried what he did to me for 33 years and was prepared to keep it buried until I saw him stand up, looking perfectly sane, and say, ‘Not guilty,’ ’’ Taylor said. “Gee whiz, that got to me.’’

Like others who have shared their stories, Taylor has felt re-victimized since coming forward.

“In some ways, I was better off keeping quiet,’’ she said. “This has been worse.’’

The disclosure has upset her family and disturbed her.

“I didn’t have to think about it for all those years,’’ Taylor said. “Now, I’ve even had a dream about a guy trying to molest my 10-year-old daughter.’’

The women who came forward have changed the legal and cultural landscape from Massachusetts to South Africa for child sex abuse victims. In Massachusetts, Conner successfully campaigned to change the statute of limitations on suing an alleged abuser to age 53 from 21, and she has filed a suit against Hewitt in state court.

In South Africa, advocates said child sex abuse victims have been empowered by Hewitt’s convictions to come forward, regardless of how long ago the crimes occurred. Legal authorities said his conviction, if upheld on appeal, will set a precedent that victims of long-ago abuse can gain convictions without medical or scientific evidence.

Sheehan said Hewitt’s abuse caused her years of distress, including severe depression and several suicide attempts. Since she came forward four years ago, she has dedicated herself to raising awareness of child sexual abuse, which remains a lower priority in South Africa than America. She has joined numerous public campaigns and is contributing to a book on the scandal.

She said, “I am doing whatever I can to get back what he took from me.’’

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