An Open Letter to NY Times Public Editor Liz Spayd, from Survivors of Child Sexual Abuse and Advocates

By Nancy Levine
August 11, 2016

Dear Ms. Spayd,

We are a global community of survivors of child sexual abuse and advocates. We were heartened when, under your editorial direction, the Columbia Journalism Review published a piece by Steve Buttry, Director of Student Media at LSU: “The voiceless have a voice. A journalist’s job is to amplify it.” We would like to ask you and The New York Times to consider amplifying our collective voice; we reiterate our request, emailed to you on July 11, 2016.

Our previous correspondence raised questions about The Times’ absence of recent coverage of the Child Victims Act of New York, and an appearance of a conflict of interest. Presumably there is no causal relationship between The Times’ absence of recent reporting on the Child Victims Act and Publisher and Chairman Arthur O. Sulzberger Jr.’s family financial interests in Whole Foods Market. But to quell concerns about an appearance of a conflict, we think this matter warrants further response.

We understand that the public editor is not responsible for The Times’ coverage decisions and deals specifically with issues of journalistic integrity. As advocates working to raise awareness of issues surrounding child sexual abuse, we would like to ask The Times to elevate its editorial sensitivity to covering related news. We believe Executive Editor Dean Baquet’s response to questions about this matter?—?“Only someone quite paranoid would see such a connection”?—?underscores the need for further attention. Scope of impact:

*approximately 1 in 4 girls and 1 in 6 boys are victims of child sexual abuse, according to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC)
*more than 43 million survivors of child sexual abuse in the U.S.

Experts’ Comments:

“It is difficult for victims of sexual abuse to say ‘I want to be heard.’ So when this heretofore silenced community courageously steps out of the shadows and asks to be heard, we (and that includes The Times) have a special obligation to listen and to not dismiss their pleas. The community is clearly expressing that The Times’ coverage of the Child Victims Act and Whole Foods is unbalanced and hurtful to them because the paper has not sufficiently reported on their very legitimate concerns. As a society we have evolved to a point where we do in practice try to be respectful of the feelings of marginalized groups. The community is simply asking the NY Times to act consistently with its longstanding business and journalistic values of inclusion and social justice.”?—?Prof. Michael A. Santoro, Co-Founder, Business and Human Rights Journal

Regarding questions about an appearance of a conflict of interest:

“How about full disclosure?—?transparency? Then let the readers decide how to weigh the various factors in formulating their opinions.”?—?Sandra Davidson, Professor, Curators’ Teaching Professor, Missouri School of Journalism, University of Missouri, Adjunct Professor, School of Law

“I would argue the [Times] needs to be open and transparent about connections. If there was no conflict of interest, it should tell people why and what it is doing to make sure corporate connections do not interfere with news coverage.”?—?David S. Allen, Professor and Director of Graduate Studies, Department of Journalism, Advertising, and Media Studies, University of Wisconsin?—?Milwaukee

“I think if a newsroom covers the opening of a store, but not the related protests, that’s a valid point of criticism, and I don’t have a problem with activists such as Nancy pointing out relationships that they think might explain questionable news judgment.”?—?Steve Buttry, Director of Student Media, Manship School of Mass Communication, Louisiana State University (Facebook post)

Marci A. Hamilton, Professor and Paul R. Verkuil Chair in Public Law, Cardozo School of Law, tweeted: “Denial, ignorance, and powerful men protecting each other,” with a link to a Huffington Post piece by Nikki DuBose who wrote:

“But not only did the New York Times not cover any news of the Child Victims Act, they also did not follow up on the Gafni story, and did not report any of the related protests that took place at the 365 by Whole Foods. As well, they never bothered to publish any of Mackey’s statements.”

    “So when this heretofore silenced community courageously steps out of the shadows and asks to be heard, we (and that includes The Times) have a special obligation to listen and to not dismiss their pleas.”

Can we, the community of survivors of child sexual abuse and advocates, count on The Times to elevate its editorial sensitivity to covering news that affects us? Would you be willing to address questions about The Times’ absence of recent coverage of the Child Victims Act and an appearance of a conflict of interest?

Thank you for your consideration,

Matthew Sandusky, Executive Director, Peaceful Hearts Foundation

Phil Saviano, Boston survivor and activist portrayed in the movie Spotlight

Peter Brooks, Horace Mann Action Coalition, Interschool Network Against Sexual Abuse

Mike Pistorino, child abuse survivor and advocate

Gary A. Greenberg, Fighting for Children PAC, Protect NY Kids

Andrew Willis, Co-Founder and CEO, Stop Abuse Campaign

Dr. Robert M. Hoatson, President and Co-Founder, Road to Recovery, Inc.

John Salveson, President, Foundation to Abolish Child Sex Abuse

Ronald Savage, survivor and Founder, United Coalition Association

Kristen Houser, MPA, Chief Public Affairs Officer, National Sexual Violence Resource Center, Pennsylvania Coalition Against Rape

Sandra Potter, CEO and Founder at Dreamcatchers for Abused Children

Randa Fox, Executive Director, Not On Our Watch America Foundation

Pamela Pine, Founder and CEO, Stop the Silence, Stop Child Sexual Abuse

Christopher M. Anderson, Executive Director, MaleSurvivor

Blair Corbett, Founder and Executive Director, Ark of Hope for Children

Whitney Gabriel, Board Member, Child Molestation Research & Prevention Institute (CMRPI)

Sara Kabakov, survivor, advocate

Judy Mitzner, survivor, advocate

Ana Wagner, Organizer, Brooklyn Bridge Walk for a Window

Bill Murray, CEO and Founder, NAASCA (National Association of Adult Survivors of Child Abuse)

Jill Jones-Soderman, Executive Director, The Foundation for the Child Victims of the Family Courts

Catherine Goodwillie, Executive Director and Board Chair, We are SAFE (Sexual Abuse Forever Ending)

Lisa Newman, President and Founder, LIFE Keys Child Project

Sheri Rettew, Executive Director, Hope Clinic

Charmill D. Vega, survivor advocate and Founder, Prevent 5Kids, Inc.

Shane McNamara, Co-Founder and Executive Director, Survivors & Mates Support Network

Yerachmiel Lopin, Founder and Proprieter of anti-abuse website, Frum Follies

Rabbi David Ingber, Founder and Spiritual Director, Romemu

Rabbi Jill Zimmerman, Founder, The Jewish Mindfulness Network

Billye Jones, LCSW, Adjunct Faculty, NYU Silver School of Social Work

Marti Leimbach, survivor and author of Age of Consent: A Novel

Rachel Thompson, author, advocate, entrepreneur, mother, Founder, #SexAbuseChat (Twitter)

Elizabeth C. Sorvillo, attorney, advocate

Michael Dolce, survivor, attorney, activist

Michael Broussard, Theatre Artist and Survivor Advocate

Joe Capozzi, Survivor, Advocate, Filmmaker, Confession, the movie

Jasmine May, survivor, advocate

Cliff H. Mason II, Founder and Editor-in-Chief, Mason Report®

Nikki DuBose, Executive Board Member, Peaceful Hearts Foundation

Melanie Blow, COO, Stop Abuse Campaign

Tammy Lerner, Vice President, Foundation to Abolish Child Sexual Abuse

[Update, 8.15.16: The office of the public editor at The Times responded to this open letter in an email.]

Survivors, supporters, and anyone who cares about eradicating child sexual abuse are encouraged to join community leaders in inquiring about The Times’ absence of coverage of the Child Victims Act of NY and appearance of a conflict of interest. Contact Public Editor Liz Spayd at This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it or Twitter: @spaydl