A former school headmistress in Australia guilty of child sex abuse

Malka Leifer, a former Australian teacher accused of dozens of cases of sexual abuse of girls at a school, arrives for a hearing at the District Court in Jerusalem on February 27, 2018.

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

A jury on Monday 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.

The 56-year-old had pleaded not guilty to over two dozen charges and spent years fighting extradition from Israel.

An Israeli judge ruled Leifer had been “impersonating someone with mental illness”, and ordered her extradition to Australia in 2021.

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

Prosecutor Justin Lewis told the court Leifer had “a tendency to have a sexual interest in girls”, and had taken advantage of the sisters’ “vulnerability, their ignorance in sexual matters and her position”.

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 between the alleged conduct and the trial.

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

She 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. Leifer will be sentenced at a later date.

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