MELBOURNE – Malka Leifer, a former Australian Jewish school principal who sexually abused two sisters and then absconded to Israel, received a 15-year prison sentence on Thursday. The court found that her actions left the sisters, Dassi Erlich and Elly Sapper, traumatized for life.
Sentencing judge Mark Gamble underscored that Leifer misused her authority in Melbourne’s ultra-Orthodox community. She initially fled to Israel in 2008 when accusations arose and managed to delay her extradition through over 70 hearings.
However, in 2021, the dual Israeli-Australian national was extradited back to Australia and found guilty of 18 out of 27 charges. These charges included six counts of rape, each potentially leading to a 25-year prison term. Leifer was, however, acquitted of abusing a third sister, Nicole Meyer.
During the trial, Sapper shared a distressing testimony about the profound impact of the abuse. Judge Gamble, referencing this testimony, said, “She continues to blame herself… She feels ashamed for not stopping the abuse at the time.”
Throughout the sentencing, observed via video link, Leifer, donned in a light blue prison jumpsuit, showed no signs of remorse, maintaining her innocence.
Designated as a “serious sexual offender,” Leifer must serve at least 11 years and six months before potential early release. Judge Gamble took into account her time in Australian and Israeli custody, crediting her with 2,069 days. Upon release, she will most likely be deported to Israel.
The charges originated from incidents between 2004 and 2007 when Leifer presided over the Adass Israel School in Melbourne. The school, part of a secluded Jewish community, created an environment where strict adherence to Jewish customs and norms made it challenging for the victims to speak out.
In one instance, Leifer lured a student home under the pretense of “kallah lessons,” a pre-wedding class with sexual education elements. The prosecution highlighted several instances where Leifer would justify her actions, once even stating, “This will help you for your wedding night.”
Her escape to Israel in 2008 was prompted after a therapist was informed of the abuse. Settling in the West Bank’s ultra-Orthodox Emmanuel settlement, she evaded Australian authorities until charges were filed in 2012. Her extradition was contested, with Leifer alleging severe depression rendered her unfit for trial. This claim was later debunked by a private investigator’s footage showing her conducting daily tasks seemingly unaffected by claimed mental ailments.
Defense lawyer Ian Hill maintained that Leifer’s interactions with the students were “professional and proper.”
Manny Waks, leader of the VoiCSA group working against child sexual abuse in the Jewish community worldwide, commended the verdict. He said, “Today’s conclusion… sends a powerful message to victims and survivors: justice can be achieved.” Waks also applauded ongoing investigations into the school’s role in facilitating Leifer’s escape.