Bob Hewitt victim back on tennis court after decades

Olivia Jasriel
Olivia Jasriel
Image: Supplied

After more than two decades, one of world-renowned tennis coach Bob Hewitt’s young victims walked back onto the court to once again be ranked one of the top players in the country.

It was a sport Olivia Jasriel, 50, never thought she would play again.

The death of her innocence had marked the abrupt end to her budding career.

But as a frail Hewitt, 79, continues his fight to get out of jail, Jasriel has built up major support to oppose his second application for parole on September 20.

Speaking at the Reeva Steenkamp Foundation’s annual breakfast at the weekend, Jasriel – born Suellen Sheehan – said she would fight her rapist’s bid to get out of jail after serving just three years at St Albans Prison, to the end.

Steenkamp family lawyer Tania Koen had already agreed to represent her.

The foundation was set up in the Port Elizabeth model’s name to empower women and children after Steenkamp was shot dead by her Paralympic boyfriend, Oscar Pistorius, on Valentine’s Day in 2013.

On Saturday, three bursaries were awarded to law students to further their studies.

Jasriel was guest speaker.

She said she had decided to change her name in 2016 to mark a fresh start.

Jasriel was a combination of her grandsons’ names, Jasper and Gabriel.

“Within three weeks I found a job and life became great.

“It was one of the best things I ever did,” she said.

“After 24 years I walked back onto the tennis court and I am now in the top 10 in the country.”

Jasriel was one of three women to testify against Hewitt, leading to his conviction and six-year prison sentence for rape and sexual assault – more than 30 years after the abuse took place.

It was a secret Jasriel had kept to herself for many years after an attempt to tell her mother had failed.

“She rubbished and silenced me. Bob was right, no-one would believe me.

“So I parked it and lived with it . . . the abuse went on.”

Born in Edenvale, Johannesburg, on June 12 1969, Jasriel said for all intents and purposes she had the perfect life.

She attended a Catholic school and was a top achiever academically.

Tennis was a priority but not always her first choice.

It was something her parents pursued on her behalf.

“I grew up conflicted. My best was never good enough and I was criticised for it.

“I even had a tennis racquet or two broken on me,” she said.

In 1974, she received a tennis racquet and a coach for her fifth birthday.

By the age of nine, she was ranked No 1 in SA.

“Not long after my 10th birthday I was playing at Ellis Park.

“I had heard whisperings of a famous name in the complex.

“Just after my finals, he approached me and asked to coach me.

“I spent almost every day with him and he promised to get me to Wimbledon.”

In early 1981, the grooming began.

She said she was on a tour in Germany with 11 other young players when she got a call to go to Hewitt’s room to fetch her pocket money.

“When I walked into the room, he was lying on the bed, butt naked.”

After taking her money, she left and never told a soul.

“I beat myself up about it every single day.

“Had I said something I could have prevented what happened to me and so many others.”

In 1982, when she was 12, Hewitt fetched her from school and on their way to the tennis club, raped her in his vehicle.

“I played tennis that afternoon for four hours.

“The smell on me was the most traumatic part.”

In 1984, she put her tennis racquet down and never went back – until now.

“Testifying was like being raped again,” Jasriel said. “The media raped me. “Bob’s legal team raped me.

“My friends who abandoned me raped me.

“I was persecuted by the public and tennis association, but mostly by my mom and dad who testified against me.”

She said that after the trial she lost everything and that was when she decided to change her name.

“Every day is hard work – it is exhausting being me.

“I live my life in isolation.”

But her focus has shifted to helping to protect children in sport.

“I am an activist in making sure children are protected in sport,” she said.

“We send our children out every day with coaches we don’t even know.”

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