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Whipped, Beaten And Abused, Why Nobody Could Help Young Tennis Star Jelena Dokic

Tennis Australia told the cops, but did they notify the wrong people?

13/11/2017 11:43 AM AEDT | Updated 13/11/2017 2:16 PM AEDT
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Jelena Dokic said she entertained suicidal thoughts.

The biography of Jelena Dokic, entitled "Unbreakable", has just hit the shelves and it contains some awful details of the physical and verbal abuse the former Australian tennis star suffered at the hands of her father, Damir.

The physical abuse was so brutal that Jelena once lost consciousness at the hands of her father. She spoke of a belt that cut like a knife, and of being thrown around the room. The verbal abuse was so sickening, Damir would call his daughter words like "slut" and "whore" when she was just 11.

Amid all this, the focus has turned to what authorities could -- or legally, should -- have done.

Tim Wimborne / Reuters
There's no looking back now for Dokic.

Under Australia's mandatory reporting laws, selected groups of people are legally obliged to report suspected cases of child abuse and neglect to government authorities.

Tennis Australia said it did this. It released a statement on Sunday, which in part read:

"All of us at Tennis Australia applaud Jelena's courage in telling her story and will continue to support her in any way we can.

There were many in tennis at the time who were concerned for Jelena's welfare, and many who tried to assist with what was a difficult family situation.

Some officials even went as far as lodging police complaints, which without co-operation from those directly involved, unfortunately could not be fully investigated."

So tennis authorities are effectively saying "we reported, but the matter went no further".

But why not? Why did the reports go no further? HuffPost Australia put that question to Professor Kerryann Walsh of the Queensland University of Technology. She explained that the reports should have gone to child protection authorities, not police.

"Police can also receive reports of abuse against a child, but they are looking for severe physical evidence and witnesses. People would have had to make statements and Damir may not have cooperated.

"However if abuse is reported to child protection authorities, the kind of investigation they do has a different kind of threshold. What they're trying to establish is whether the child has suffered harm, and whether they are at risk of harm now and in future. "

Walsh said she was not intimately familiar with the details of Jelena Dokic's case, but did say it was doubtful that there would have been a class of person who was directly responsible for reporting her situation.

"[The onus to report] is usually restricted to professionals who spend most of their time working with children," Walsh explained.

In most cases, that means people like teachers or psychologists. It's a bit of a grey area as to whether other tennis people fitted into that formal responsibility. Another complication is that Tennis Australia is a national body, and mandatory reporting laws are state laws.

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The Dokics in the early 2000s. Dad not happy, just for a change.

A key question remains: could anyone have helped the young Jelena Dokic, who is now 34?

Kerryann Walsh said that while under the law, only certain people are required to report abuse, any member of the public is empowered to. In other words, if you see it, you can report it, no matter who you are.

Walsh told us about about the so-called "bystander effect", where people are reluctant to get involved.

"We all saw that happening to Jelena. Despite there being legislation, people don't take action because they don't think it's their place.

"It gets even more grey with a girl who is 16 or 17. Legally she is a child but she is able to consent for herself in all other respects. People are uncomfortable with even thinking about that as child maltreatment."

One man who touched very strongly on the bystander effect was ABC Sports writer Richard Hinds -- who covered Dokic at the peak of her career which included a semi-final appearance at Wimbledon in 2000 when she was just 16. Hinds ended his emotive piece arguing "we should have done more".

By "we", he appeared to be referring to media, tennis authorities and anyone close enough to see what was going on. Tennis Australia did as it was legally required, but was that enough?

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