Sex abuser Malka Leifer gets 15-year sentence in Australia

The ultra-Orthodox former principal had managed to avoid extradition from Israel for nearly 13 years.

By Batya Jerenberg, World Israel News

Sexual predator Malka Leifer, who evaded extradition from Israel to Australia for almost 13 years, was sentenced on Thursday to 15 years’ imprisonment for serially abusing two sisters who were students in the ultra-Orthodox school that she headed.

Leifer was found guilty on 18 out of 27 charges of sexually abusing Dassi Erlich and Elly Sapper, while being acquitted of abusing a third sister, Nicole Meyer.

Judge Mark Gamble noted that the girls were “completely innocent victims of the predatory behavior of Mrs. Leifer, and it is she, and she alone, who should feel guilty and ashamed.” Leifer was “a serious sexual offender” who displayed “callous indifference” to her victims’ suffering, he said, and was “in no way reformed.”

Gamble still took off the 5.6 years that Leifer had already cumulatively spent in prison both in Israel and Australia during some 70 different extradition proceedings and while awaiting trial.

Leifer displayed almost no emotion while watching the sentencing from her maximum-security cell.

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The end to the legal saga could not come quickly enough for the three sisters who had bravely stepped forward 15 years ago to accuse a woman whom they had looked up to and loved as extremely sheltered teens in their Adass Israel School in Melbourne. She then betrayed their trust with her sexual assaults that she claimed “would help” them on their “wedding night.”

“Malka Leifer has finally been held accountable,” said Sapper, with her sisters standing at her side in front of a phalanx of microphones and members of the Australian press after the court was adjourned.

The fact that the 56-year-old would be a pensioner when released if she serves her full sentence was not comforting, however.

“She has shown no remorse during this entire process,” said Meyer, “so I do not believe for a minute that she would not re-offend if she has the opportunity.”

Still, “today really marks the end of this chapter of our lives and opens the chapter of us healing,” said Erlich, although Meyer noted that “trauma from sexual abuse is a life-long sentence.”

Tzohar Center for Jewish Ethics director Rabbi Yuval Cherlow hailed the court’s decision for the supportive message it sent to those hurt by such sexual exploitation.

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“A critical aspect of the rehabilitation process for any victims is knowing that their speaking out has not been in vain and, that their claims have been recognized and justified, and that the relevant authorities agree to the severity of the crimes committed against them,” he said.

Meting out justice was also vital, he pointed out.

“Handing down a heavy sentence on Malka Leifer should be recognized as an important milestone in the effort to defend victims of sexual abuse in our society,” he said.

It should also act as a “wake-up call to all those who acted, either publicly or privately, to sabotage efforts to bring Leifer to justice, and all those individuals should be required to ask forgiveness of her victims.

“It is more imperative than ever that we use this painful episode to increase our efforts to stand in support of victims in a way that reflects Torah values and basic human morality.”

After fleeing to Israel to escape a police investigation into her actions, Leifer pretended to be so severely mentally ill that she could not stand trial when the Australian authorities made the extradition request in 2014. She was protected by a series of ultra-Orthodox government officials, including former health minister Yaakov Litzman, who last year admitted in a plea deal to pressuring underlings to alter some of the predator’s psychiatric assessments.

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Litzman was given a symbolic fine and suspended sentence in exchange for resigning his position. Leifer was finally sent to Australia to stand trial in 2021.

Australian News 9 reported that additional charges could still be brought in the case, as within hours of being notified in 2008 of the suspicions against their charismatic principal, Adass Israel supporters helped her flee the country by paying for plane tickets to Israel for Leifer, her husband and eight children, and they were then reimbursed by the school.