Mandy Wiener

Mandy Wiener: Hewitt parole fiasco demonstrates how the system fails victims

2019-09-16 09:00
Bob Hewitt. (Getty Images, Gallo Images, file)

Bob Hewitt. (Getty Images, Gallo Images, file)

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The government should ensure that it matches sentiment with action for survivors of sexual violence, writes Mandy Wiener.

Olivia Jasriel was at work on Thursday last week when she got a phone call from her attorney Tania Koen. As one of the most outspoken survivors of former tennis pro and rapist Bob Hewitt, she had been anticipating a call notifying her when she would be asked to give representations against his parole application.

Hewitt has served half of the six-year sentence he received for rape and sexual assaults committed in the 1980s and '90s and legally is thus eligible for parole. Jasriel was horrified by what her lawyer had to tell her. Hewitt had been granted parole without her opinion even being considered.

READ | Decision to place Bob Hewitt on parole to be reviewed, date of placement is now suspended

It was a slap in the face.

"I burst into tears. I didn't get sad. I didn't get upset. I got insanely angry," says Jasriel about the decision of the Correctional Supervision and Parole Board (CSPB).

"Because they didn't follow procedure and overlooked us. The message they are sending is that the perpetrator, the criminals' rights, are always taken into account before our rights. At no point ever over the past nine years [since first laying the charge] have I ever been considered in terms of what I'm entitled to. If you're a criminal your rights will be upheld."

Parole letter

What followed was four days of anxiety and confusion that only served to further traumatise Jasriel.

Koen, the lawyer, had been told by a "Mr Bosman" at St Albans Prison in Port Elizabeth that the board had sat on the August 23 and had considered Hewitt's application.

CONFIRMED | Correctional services board grants convicted rapist Bob Hewitt parole, survivors to seek urgent review

It had resolved that he would be placed on parole on September 23. The news came like a ton of bricks for Koen and her client. But then the Department of Correctional Services and the minister quickly clarified, issuing statements categorically insisting that no such hearing had taken place and no decision had yet been taken.

Jasriel wasn't convinced.

And rightly so, because as it turned out a letter had been sent to the only one of the three victims whose identity was not allowed to be made public by a court order.

The letter had been sent by an official from St Albans on Thursday, confirming the CSPB had sat and had taken the decision. It hadn't bothered to reach out to Jasriel or the other survivors to get their input.

Only once that letter was made public, did the minister swiftly respond issuing a statement on Sunday afternoon ordering the parole be reviewed. To his credit, he also noted "with grave concern the lack of participation by the victims of crimes in the parole consideration process".

But the damage had been done.

Jasriel has carried with her a lifetime of trauma.

Raped by the system

Formerly known as Suellen Sheehan (she was forced to change her name to find employment), she was raped by Hewitt when she was 12 years old. She tried to tell her mother but she was ignored. Decades after the incident occurred, she found the courage to speak out and lay a charge against Hewitt.

She testified in court against him. Her parents testified against her. She said she felt raped by the system, by the courts and by the media. Now she says it has happened again.

"It just completely retraumatises you. You don't get notified that your rapist is coming out of prison. You walk through the mall and the next thing you know there he is. Or he's had enough time to get bitter enough and put a bullet through your head. Where's the justice in that? I have no freedom. I'm never going to have freedom. I'm going to spend the rest of my life looking over my back.

"My first reaction when I heard about his parole is of fear. I'm scared. I'm terrified of him. No one knows where I live. I live in hiding. He's going to go out and live. It's disgusting. The message they've sent out is you get a slap on the wrist. Forget what it does to the victims. His three years compared to my life sentence... "

The issue of gender based violence has been high on the country's agenda over the past few weeks, as it absolutely should be.

Government and the president have been at pains to show that they care and that they consider the matter a priority. But in practice, they have once again failed to demonstrate that the system works in favour of those who are targets of rape and sexual assault.

Jasriel, by her own admission, has the privilege of a strong capable legal team and the attention of the media on her side.

Were it not for these two weapons in her arsenal, Bob Hewitt would have been quietly released without any fuss or opposition. We may never have known. The hypothetical scenario of a victim bumping into her rapist in the mall would have been a very real possibility.

This debacle has illustrated just how the system fails the most vulnerable in society on a practical level and how often we just don't know that it has happened.

- Mandy Wiener is a specialist reporter for News24.

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Read more on:    bob hewitt  |  rape  |  gender rights


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