Malka Leifer’s former student accused of ‘blatant lies’

Karen Sweeney |

A woman alleging former ultra-Orthodox Jewish school principal Malka Leifer sexually abused her has been accused of telling “blatant lies” to a jury.

But prosecutors say the woman and her sisters were groomed through pretend love and concern by a woman who was revered and respected in their isolated community

Leifer, 56, is facing 27 charges over the alleged abuse of Melbourne sisters Nicole Meyer, Dassi Erlich and Elly Sapper when she was principal of the Adass Israel School in the city’s eastern suburbs between 2003 and 2007.

The mother of eight has pleaded not guilty and is standing trial in the Victorian County Court.

Her barrister Ian Hill KC used his closing address on Thursday to accuse Ms Sapper of lying in her evidence.

He said she gave inconsistent evidence about the location of alleged abuse, made speeches instead of answering questions, and roped Leifer into answers where questions had nothing to do with his client.

“Did she get caught out telling blatant lies? The answer is yes,” he said.

He also suggested “something has gone very wrong in these girls’ lives at home” when pointing jurors to Ms Meyer’s evidence about it being odd that Leifer would touch girls on the back or arms to guide them, or feeling uncomfortable about hugs from her father.

“That’s just not what you might think is a normal response,” he said.

Allegations against Leifer were first aired in 2008 when Ms Erlich spoke to social worker Chana Rabinowitz.

Mr Hill suggested the “unfortunate narrative” against his client came from innocent beginnings, noting Ms Erlich’s former husband gave evidence that he overheard his then-wife speaking to her sister about Ms Rabinowitz taking comments out of proportion.

Mr Hill suggested that account “grew like wildfire” into a story that varied over the years, where truth was lost in “false accounts and hardened into false imaginations and false realities of sexual abuse and rape”.

Prosecutor Justin Lewis said if it sounded like Ms Erlich was trying to back-pedal, that was understandable, having received implied threats.

He said it was little wonder she was worried about what would happen next.

Mr Lewis said Leifer had used pretend love and concern to groom and sexually abuse the sisters for her own sexual gratification.

“These three sisters had a miserable home life and as far as the accused was concerned, they were ripe for the picking,” he said.

“There’s no mystery in any of them speaking highly of her – they were getting love and attention from one of the most revered and respected people they knew.”

He said jurors had more than enough evidence to convict her, and asked them to do so.

Mr Lewis said in each alleged incident Leifer had started with lesser acts and was able to observe the girls’ reactions before increasing the seriousness of acts against them.

Jurors heard Ms Sapper told a counsellor in March 2008 that Leifer hadn’t stopped abusing her when she asked.

“She even asked me if I was enjoying it and when I said ‘no I don’t like it’ she said I would never be able to give a man pleasure,” she said.

Closing arguments will continue on Friday.