Paper’s investigative series on child abuse in Orthodox community cited in national contest.
Hella Winston, who has been reporting about the problem of child sexual abuse in the fervently Orthodox community for The Jewish Week for four years, and the paper’s managing editor, Robert Goldblum, received an Honorable Mention in the 2012 Casey Medals for Meritorious Journalism.
The awards were announced last week by The Journalism Center on Children and Families, which sponsors the investigative journalism contest, now in its 18th year.
Some of the Casey winners this year included National Public Radio, The New York Times, ABC News’ “20/20,” Harper’s Magazine and regional newspapers such as the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel and the Tulsa World. Entries were received from more than 500 reporters, editors, photographers and producers at 100 news organizations.
Winston’s series of stories, written over the course of 2011, touched on some of the major institutions in the fervently Orthodox community and their role in the issue of child sexual abuse and how it is handled. They include Ohel Children’s Home and Family Services, the Borough Park Shomrim patrol and a powerful religious court in the heavily haredi town of Lakewood, N.J. The series, which included five stories, also shed light on the role played by the Brooklyn District Attorney’s office, headed by DA Charles Hynes.
The Casey Medal award citation reads: “The ultra-Orthodox Jewish community has a long history of handling problems like the sexual abuse of children internally without reporting or cooperating with law enforcement officials. Instead, suspects are subject to a process that involves rabbis, religious tribunals, social workers and community watchdogs. This shadow system ultimately denies justice to victims, casts out whistleblowers and enables perpetrators to continue endangering children. The Jewish Week’s coverage encouraged abuse victims to come forward and spurred mainstream media outlets into action. The judges praised the series for sending a message to ethnic media to be unafraid to air and take on problems in their own communities.”
The Lakewood story (“In Lakewood Abuse Cases, A Parallel System Of Justice”), based largely on court documents, detailed the inner workings of an influential religious court as it tried to adjudicate sensitive allegations of sexual abuse. The story revealed the kinds of intimidation faced by families who sought to bring allegations of abuse to secular law enforcement. The Shomrim story (“Tragedy In Borough Park Puts Shomrim Under Scrutiny”)
focused on the Orthodox patrol group’s actions — some of which were criticized by members of the New York Police Department — in the wake of the kidnapping and murder of 8-year-old Leiby Kletzky.
Two stories in the series focused on Ohel (“Abuse Case Tests Ohel’s Adherence To Reporting Policy” and “Ohel Campaign To Bolster Image Questioned”). The first, which chronicled the story of a young mother who suggested she had abused her 5-year-old son, focused on whether the social service agency followed the law when it comes to reporting allegations of child abuse to law enforcement. The second reported on Ohel’s campaign, questioned in some quarters, to respond to the issues raised by the initial story, which was published in February 2011.
The piece on Hynes (“News Of Abuse Arrests Hailed, Questioned”) reported on the Brooklyn district attorney’s policy of not identifying members of the Orthodox community who have been charged and arrested, and the scrutiny that policy was coming under.
Peter Wang, president of the board of directors of The Jewish Week, said he was proud that Winston and Goldblum were receiving “well deserved national attention for the kind of reporting that requires a commitment to the truth, especially when that truth may be difficult for some in our community to absorb and acknowledge.”
The Fund for Investigative Journalism gave financial support to Winston’s reporting on the Lakewood story.
The Casey Medals are a project of the JCCF at the Philip Merrill College of Journalism, University of Maryland. The Jewish Week competed in the Project/Series category for news organizations with circulations/unique monthly digital users under 200,000.
Jewish Week editor Gary Rosenblatt won the Casey Medal in 2000 for his reporting on a sexual abuse scandal that resulted in the conviction and imprisonment of Rabbi Baruch Lanner, who was alleged to have abused teens in his charge in the Orthodox youth group, National Council of Synagogue Youth (NCSY), for more than three decades.
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