Published: 23 January 2020
Author: Jessica Steele and Kate Malone
Jewish principal accused of abuse finally to face trial
The principal of a Melbourne ultra-Orthodox Jewish school may finally be extradited to Australia from Israel, to face dozens of charges of sexual abuse against her pupils.
Malka Leifer, who was principal of the Adass Israel School in Elsternwick in the early 2000s, is facing 74 counts of sexual abuse following allegations that she abused several students whilst a teacher and principal of the school in the early 2000s.
Following the allegations coming to light in March 2008, Leifer fled to Israel via flights booked and paid for by the Adass Israel School, where she has remained ever since.
It was not until August 2014 that Leifer was arrested in Israel and placed under house arrest, however she has since resisted extradition to Australia to face the criminal charges on the grounds that she is mentally unfit to stand trial.
Justice for victims is one step closer now, with a psychiatric panel determining in early January 2020 that Leifer had fabricated her mental illness in order to avoid extradition.
Leifer facing criminal trial
The criminal proceedings against Leifer are in addition to a civil claim brought by one of Leifer’s victims in the Supreme Court of Victoria.
In 2015 the Supreme Court awarded damages in excess of one million dollars against the Adass Israel School, with exemplary damages in the sum of $150,000 to be paid by Leifer personally.
The judge in the civil case noted that the offending by Leifer was a particularly grievous breach of trust, as she conducted her pattern of offending under the guise of sex education, which is otherwise incredibly limited in conservative Jewish communities, leaving victims naïve and vulnerable. This was in addition to the structure of the conservative community of which Leifer’s victims were members of, which forbade access to television, internet and other external influences.
The civil case was important in developing the principles of vicarious liability, which in essence states that an institution such as a school can, in certain circumstances, be held liable for the criminal actions of a staff member. The case found that the school was vicariously liable for the actions of Leifer. The civil case also found that the school was directly liable for the actions of Leifer as she was essentially “the mind and will” of the school.
Like so many other pockets of society, the prevalence of sexual abuse, and of organisations shielding perpetrators within the Jewish community is sadly not limited to the Adass Israel School.
The Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Abuse (‘the Royal Commission’) considered the response of Yeshivah Melbourne to allegations of child sexual abuse in Case Study No. 22, which was released in October 2016.
Abuse within other Jewish organisations
During Case Study 22 the Royal Commission heard evidence that students at the Yeshivah Centre were sexually abused between 1984 and 2007, by both fellow students and staff members.
The Royal Commission heard from multiple victims, who were brave enough to bring forward their allegations of child sexual abuse against David Cyprys, David Kramer and an unnamed perpetrator. David Cyprys and David Kramer have since been convicted of numerous child sex offences in relation to a number of victims from the 1980s and 1990s.
The Royal Commission also heard evidence about systems and practices of responding to allegations of child sexual abuse at Yeshivah Centre. In particular, the Royal Commission heard from a victim who had reported their abuse to the head Rabbi of the Yeshivah Centre, Rabbi Groner, who assured the victim that their perpetrator would be ‘dealt with’, only to reencounter their assailant within school grounds, carrying on with their employment.
The prevalence of sexual abuse within the Jewish community is further indicated by the establishment of independent redress schemes, including the Children in Residential Care Support Scheme brought in by Jewish Care, as well as the Yeshivah Redress Scheme.
Although the introduction of such schemes within the Jewish community is a positive step in the ongoing recognition and support of survivors of childhood sexual abuse, survivors should be aware that there are a number of options available to them if they wish to pursue a claim for damages.
RCT Law has previously given legal advice to individuals who have suffered abuse in a Jewish community or setting and can discuss legal options that may be available including redress schemes, Victims of Crime compensation and civil claims.
For a confidential, free of charge consultation on the options available to survivors of physical, sexual or psychological abuse, please contact our office on (03) 9238 7878 to speak with a member of our specialist RCT Abuse Law team.