Malka Leifer: former headmistress guilty of Australia child sex abuse

Posted: 3rd April 2023

Source:  BBC News

An Israeli former headteacher has been found guilty of sexually assaulting two teenage students at an ultra-Orthodox Jewish girls school in Australia.

The jury in Melbourne found Malka Leifer had raped and indecently assaulted sisters Dassi Erlich and Elly Sapper between 2003 and 2007.

But it found her not guilty of abusing a third sister, Nicole Meyer.

Leifer, 56, had pleaded not guilty to more than two dozen charges and spent years fighting extradition from Israel.

But in 2021, an Israeli judge ordered her extradition to Australia.

The six-week trial in Victoria’s County Court heard evidence that Leifer was a revered figure at Melbourne’s Adass Israel School, where the three sisters were students.

They said they were abused by Leifer in locked classrooms at the school, on school camps, and at the head teacher’s home.

The abuse continued after they graduated and returned to the school as student teachers, they said.

“When we look back at the journey that it took, everything that happened in Israel, it was so unbelievable that we get to this time and we have: she’s guilty, she’s guilty; that can’t be taken away, she is guilty,” Ms Erlich told reporters outside the County Court of Victoria, flanked by her sisters.

Prosecutor Justin Lewis argued Leifer had shown “a tendency to have a sexual interest in girls”. She had taken advantage of her position, he said, but also the sisters’ “vulnerability [and] their ignorance in sexual matters”.

The then-teenagers had little understanding about sex due to their upbringing, which centred around their ultra-conservative Jewish faith and community, he said.

“Knowing that they were neglected at home, she pretended that she loved them and told them that she was helping them,” Mr Lewis argued.

But Leifer’s defence barrister Ian Hill argued the allegations were false and questioned the reliability of witnesses. Leifer’s legal team did not call any defence witnesses – including Leifer herself.

They had also argued Leifer had been at a disadvantage in defending herself against the charges, partly because of the time that had elapsed.

Leifer fled to Israel in 2008 after accusations were raised against her.

The mother-of-eight was arrested at Australia’s request in 2014, but two years later an Israeli court suspended her extradition, ruling her to be mentally unfit for trial.

But undercover private investigators later filmed her shopping and depositing a cheque at a bank, leading Israeli authorities to investigate and re-arrest her in February 2018. The Israeli judge, who ordered her extradition in 2021, said she had been “impersonating someone with mental illness”.

The jury heard limited evidence about her travel to Israel and the extradition, but after almost two weeks of deliberations, convicted Leifer of 18 offences relating to Ms Erlich and Ms Sapper.

They acquitted her of nine charges – the five that related to Ms Meyer and several charges involving Ms Erlich.

Leifer will be sentenced at a later date.

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