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Former school principal Malka Leifer sentenced to 15 years in jail for sexual abuse

Key Points
  • Malka Leifer faced trial over sexual abuse of teenage girls allegedly perpetrated when she was a school principal.
  • In April, she was found guilty of 18 of 27 charges relating to the abuse of two sisters.
  • Before the case went to court, authorities spent more than a decade trying to extradite her from Israel.
This article contains references to child abuse and sexual assault.
Former school principal Malka Leifer will spend up to 15 years in jail for the sexual abuse of former students Dassi Erlich and Elly Sapper.
It comes nearly two decades after the abuse began and 12 years after three sisters first made statements about Leifer to police.
In April, she was of 18 charges of sexual abuse, including rape and indecent assault.
She was acquitted of nine other charges, including five against the siblings’ older sister, Nicole Meyer.

All three sisters were in the Victorian County Court on Thursday when Judge Mark Gamble handed down his sentence and ordered Leifer to serve at least 11.5 years in prison.

Malke Leifer was found guilty of abusing Melbourne sisters Dassi Erlich and Elly Sapper, and was acquitted of abusing their older sister Nicole Meyer. Source: AAP / James Ross

Leifer cried as her sentence was handed down.

She was not there in person, and instead watched proceedings by video-link from the Dame Phyllis Frost Centre, a maximum security prison in Melbourne.
Before the hearing, Erlich said she and her sisters were hopeful Leifer would be in jail for “as long as possible”.
“No sentence is going to reflect what she did to us, but what we’re hoping for is that, as long as possible, she’s away,” she told Sky News.
In handing down the sentence, Gamble formally took into account 1,129 days Leifer spent in custody in Israel, during extradition proceedings, and 940 days in custody in Australia.
He also applied a modest reduction in the sentence, taking into account 608 days under house arrest.
Those days were punitive, he said, but he also took into account accusations she had exaggerated and intensified her mental health conditions to frustrate extradition proceedings during that time.

In an hours-long sentencing hearing, Gamble detailed the grooming and abuse inflicted upon the sisters, who had a difficult home life.

Erlich said she was scared of Leifer and unable to say anything.
“She knew a lot of things about me and implied if I said anything she would share those things about my home life, which was a big shame to me at the time,” Gamble read from Erlich’s evidence.
Sapper described dealing with guilt, shame and fear, and continues to blame herself.
But Gamble said the sisters were commendably resilient and surprisingly optimistic.

“They were completely innocent victims of the predatory behaviour of Mrs Leifer and it is she and she alone who should feel guilty,” the judge said.

Who is Malka Leifer?

12 years ago, three Melbourne sisters made police statements about sexual abuse by their former school principal.

The allegations date back to a period when the sisters were students and junior religious studies teachers at Adass Israel School between 2003 and 2007.

A woman being led into court in handcuffs.

The judicial process to have Malka Leifer extradited to Australia was drawn out, with progress slow due to complications with ongoing appeals. Source: AAP / Mahmoud Illean

Leifer, 56, not only denied guilt throughout the trial but when complaints initially arose in 2008, she fled the country.

After being pursued by the Australian and Israeli justice systems, Leifer spent years challenging her extradition back to Australia to face pending charges.

The Addas Israel School

Leifer fled Australia to Israel in 2008 when allegations about her treatment of students at her school arose.

It’s been alleged she fled using a plane ticket paid for by the Addas School. It’s recently been reported that Victoria Police has reopened an investigation into the conduct of those at the Elsternwick school at the time.

The outside of Adass Israel school in Elsternwick.

The Adass Israel school in Elsternwick where Malka Leifer was principal. Source: Getty / Darrian Traynor

The school is part of the ultra-Orthodox Adass Israel Jewish community in Melbourne.

According to an , which consisted of about 2,000 people in 2016, it attempts to maintain age-old rituals by remaining as self-sufficient as possible.

The conservative society was understood to have its own shops, schools, butcher, baker, synagogue, cemetery, and even its own ambulance service.

Extraditing Malka Leifer to Australia

The Australian government made a request to Israel in 2013 to extradite Leifer so she could face the 74 charges laid against her by Victoria Police.
Leifer was first arrested in Israel in 2014 and placed under house arrest, only to be let free on the condition she undertook psychiatric assessments.

However, following an independent undercover investigation that proved she was feigning mental illness and going about her life as normal, Leifer was arrested again in 2018.

Three women stand in front of the District Court of Jerusalem.

Melbourne sisters Elly Sapper, Dassi Erlich and Nicole Meyers travelled to Jerusalem to attend court where Malka Leifer’s possible extradition was being considered. Source: AAP / Abir Sultan

Since that time, Leifer has been bailed and re-imprisoned a number of times across a drawn-out appeals process.

In 2019, her case even saw Israel’s deputy health minister Ya’acov Litzman summoned for questioning by Israeli police.
There were suspicions that he had played a role in obstructing the extradition of Leifer.
According to the , the minister received “an extremely light sentence” in the form of a fine, for his role in “pressuring employees in the Health Ministry to alter the conclusions of psychiatric evaluations that had deemed the accused sex offender fit for extradition”.
A total of 74 hearings were held in Israeli courts in regard to Leifer’s case.

Her final failed appeal took place in December 2020, at which point, Israel’s justice minister finally approved her extradition.

In January 2021, more than a decade after fleeing to Israel, Leifer was extradited to Australia.

Malka Leifer on trial in Australia

The matter went to trial at the County Court of Victoria in February, with Leifer initially facing 29 charges including multiple rape and indecent assault charges.

She was acquitted of two charges during proceedings as it was found the relevant legislation had not been in place during the alleged offending.

Following six weeks of hearing evidence, jurors deliberated over nine days before handing down their 18 guilty verdicts.
Leifer was acquitted of nine charges — including all five brought by prosecutors over the alleged abuse of Meyer.
If you or someone you know is impacted by sexual assault, call 1800RESPECT on 1800 737 732 or visit . In an emergency, call 000.
Readers seeking support can contact Lifeline crisis support on 13 11 14, Suicide Call Back Service on 1300 659 467 and Kids Helpline on 1800 55 1800 (for young people aged 5 to 25). More information is available at and .

Anyone seeking information or support relating to sexual abuse can contact Bravehearts on 1800 272 831 or Blue Knot on 1300 657 380.

https://www.sbs.com.au/news/article/former-school-principal-malka-leifer-sentenced-to-15-years-in-jail-for-sexual-abuse/mzdj034zh Former school principal Malka Leifer sentenced to 15 years in jail for sexual abuse

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