Ex-Orthodox principal Leifer denies raping sisters

Karen Sweeney |

Former ultra-Orthodox Jewish school principal Malka Leifer allegedly raped a former student and told her it would help her for her wedding night.

The 56-year-old mother of eight is standing trial accused of sexually abusing Melbourne sisters Nicole Meyer, Dassi Erlich and Elly Sapper when they were her students, or young teachers, at the Adass Israel School between 2003 and 2007.

Leifer, who was head of religious studies and later principal, has pleaded not guilty.

The women, now in their 30s, were raised in the ultra-Orthodox Hasidic community in which young girls were not taught about sex until engaged to be married, prosecutor Justin Lewis told Leifer’s County Court trial on Wednesday.

They each completed year 12 at the Adass Israel School before returning the following year as teachers.

Mr Lewis said it would be alleged Leifer had a tendency to act in a certain way against certain people.

“It is said she has a tendency to have a sexual interest in girls when they were teenage students at the school and when those same girls were student teachers … to take advantage of their vulnerability, their ignorance in sexual matters and her position in the school,” he said.

He detailed the particular allegations made by each of the women against Leifer and the charges she faces.

On one occasion Leifer allegedly raped Ms Meyer shortly before her wedding and said “this will help you for your wedding night”.

She later allegedly fondled Ms Meyer before stopping and telling her “I’ll leave that for your husband”.

Leifer is also alleged to have sexually offended against Ms Meyer and Ms Erlich when the three shared a room on a school camp.

Mr Lewis said Leifer began to spend more time with Ms Erlich when she was a student, allegedly asking if she was “an innocent girl or if she’d like to find out things that weren’t relevant” to her.

Leifer is also alleged to have raped Ms Erlich when she slept at her house for kallah lessons – in which young Jewish women are taught about family, purity and basic details about sex.

Ms Sapper, the youngest of the sisters, was allegedly abused by Leifer in her final year of school and when she returned to teach the following year.

Leifer allegedly told Ms Sapper “this is good for you” on some occasions.

Her barrister Ian Hill KC said the defence position was that the allegations are “erroneous, imagined and/or fabricated”.

“Mrs Leifer denies all of the criminal conduct alleged by each of the complainants,” he said.

“You will hear that in 2008 she said to a fellow teacher … that she had done nothing wrong.”

It’s not accepted that the women were ignorant in sexual matters or unable to understand the nature of a sexual act, notwithstanding their ultra-Orthodox upbringing, he said.

But he did accept they had experienced an extremely difficult home life, and said the extent of that and its effect on them, would be in issue.

He described their treatment at home as cruel and unusual.

Jurors are also expected to hear there was a “positive, glowing and appropriate” relationship between Leifer and the sisters, Mr Hill said.

“An issue will be as to whether they took on Mrs Leifer, in effect, as a substitute parent in view of what was happening at home,” Mr Hill said.

He noted jurors would need to consider the complainants’ credibility and reliability, highlighting how their allegations developed through various police statements over a decade.

Defence will also raise consent, with Mr Hill noting for 21 of the 29 charges the women were legally capable of consent.

Wearing a long black skirt, a black and gold jumper and her hair in a black wrap, Leifer sat in court holding a small book as Judge Mark Gamble told jurors to put aside any sympathy or prejudice they might feel toward or against anyone in the trial and to decide the case.

The trial is expected to run for up to six weeks.