Why the ATP Needs to Take Domestic Abuse More Seriously

By Ashlee Woods

Trigger Warning: sexual assault

It’s been almost two years since the tennis world was rocked with the news that top tennis player Alexander Zverev had been accused of abusing his ex-girlfriend, Olya Sharypova. Immediately, people took sides. One side asked the ATP to handle the situation and condemned Zverev. The other defended the German and called Sharypova a multitude of names, including a liar. 

Little has been done about the situation. After announcing in 2020 that they will conduct an internal investigation, the ATP finally reached out to Sharypova in April. The ATP announced a review of its safeguarding policies in 2021, but no real change has come out of that. Two in-depth stories about Sharypova’s experience have been met with near silence. 

The problem here is that Sharypova is not the only person to have been allegedly abused by an ATP player. She’s one of a few that have come out in recent months. But the tour remains relatively silent, updates are rarely given and no one truly knows just how much work — or if any work — is being done behind the scenes. 

For some people, Sharypova’s statement would be taken more seriously if she had gone to the police and filed a report. That is simply not true. Only 28% of sexual assault cases are reported to the police. Most cases of domestic abuse aren’t even reported to the police. 

I happen to be one of the many people that didn’t report. Here’s my story, why I decided not to report, and why the ATP should take domestic violence more seriously. 

When I was younger, I had a hard time making friends. I was the shy, weird, fat girl that tried way too hard — and failed — to fit in. But one person I knew growing up didn’t seem to care about that. She, like me, just wanted a friend. I thought to myself, “why not? I think I can trust her.” 

I could not trust her. 

It was the third time I had a sleepover with her. Her and her mom lived in a small, two bedroom apartment in Delaware, where I’m originally from. We slept in her room together, like we’ve always done, in separate beds. 

Like we always did, we watched a DVD of Jesse McCartney’s music videos. But something felt off. I was in my normal spot. She was not. 

As the night wore on, she got closer to me. Out of fear, I froze and pretended to be asleep, hoping that would stop her. It didn’t. 

The next morning, my mother picked me up and I ran into her arms. I was seven when this happened. I didn’t go over there ever again. 

Four years later, my brother and I were talking about a case of domestic abuse we had seen on the news. I told him I wish I had the bravery to tell someone what happened to me. He stopped, cut off the tv and asked me what I meant by that. My brother was the first to know, then my mom, my dad and then her mom. 

The friend, like Zverev, vehemently denied everything. Her mother wanted me to tell my mother that I was lying, that I just wanted attention. There I was, an 11 year old girl, sitting in the pastor’s office of my home church — we all went to church together— wondering where I went wrong. 

The thing is that I didn’t do anything wrong. I just spoke up.  

Much to my family’s surprise, I told my mother I didn’t want to file a report. Apparently, to the friend’s mother, that was enough proof to her that I was lying. In reality, I just wanted to begin the process of healing. 

I was just a kid when it happened. No kid should ever have to go through this. But, unfortunately, one out of every four girls and one out of every seven boys will be sexually assaulted before the age of 18 in America. The first thought on everyone’s mind should have been about how to protect the victim and how we can prevent this from happening again. 

That wasn’t the case with me and that isn’t the case with Sharypova. 

As a society, we have created a culture around sexual assault and domestic abuse where a victim must fulfill certain requirements in order for our story to be true. When, in fact, only 2% of reports are proven to be false. Countless stories have proven to be true and yet when another case like this pops up, many people would rather judge than to help. 

All Sharypova wanted to do was to help future victims find their voice. All I wanted to do is to protect myself and others from my abuser. Yet, both of us were called liars. 

Domestic abuse and sexual assault is prevalent throughout all sports, not just tennis. But tennis is one of the few sports where a policy is not in place. The ATP has shown that it would much rather let this situation blow over than to actually deal with it. 

That won’t work. 

Implementing a policy isn’t about making someone guilty until proven innocent. It’s about protecting the people in the world of tennis and creating a safe environment for everyone. That should be the priority. 

As fans, we may never know the full story of what happened between Sharypova and Zverev. But we shouldn’t have to know everything to want to assist someone in getting the peace and help they deserve. 

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