Adass Israel school failed me, says abuse case student

By Pia Akerman (The Australian)
May 7, 2015

A woman suing an ultra-orthodox Jewish school and the former principal for sexually assaulting her as a student says the school provided no sex education or pathways for reporting the abuse.

Mother of eight Malka Leifer and the Adass Israel school in Melbourne's southeastern suburbs are facing court action brought by the former student, who says Ms Leifer repeatedly assaulted her over four years in the mid-2000s.

Ms Leifer swiftly left the school when allegations concerning several students came to light in 2008, resigning after an internal investigation and flying to Israel with her family the next day. She has previously denied the allegations, but is not mounting a defence in the civil case.

There are ongoing court proceedings in Israel to extradite her to face criminal charges.

Her former student, who was 15 when the alleged abuse began, yesterday told the Victorian Supreme Court she initially felt "privileged" by Ms Leifer's attention. "I trusted her, I trusted what she said to me," said the woman, who is now 27.

"She would tell me that she loved me and that she really cared for me ... (that) this was her way of showing how close she felt to me."

The woman said the school had never provided sex education, maintained a strict gender separation policy and did not inform students or staff of any complaints procedure.

She told judge John Rush that Ms Leifer had repeatedly sucked her breasts, touched her genitals and penetrated her digitally during "private lessons" at the school and Ms Leifer's home, including while the principal's children were in the other room.

Dyson Hore-Lacy SC, representing the former student, said at least eight complainants had come forward to police and there were probably "many more" within the insular Adass Israel community, based in Elsternwick.

Two of the former student's sisters also allege they were abused by Ms Leifer and will give evidence in the case, but are not part of the lawsuit.

Mr Hore-Lacy said the school had admitted owing a duty of care to the former student, and had not reported the alleged abuse to police when it became aware of the allegations but instead may have facilitated Ms Leifer's flight.

The court has heard a member of the school's board helped arrange the airline tickets.

Mr Hore-Lacy said Ms Leifer ruled the school "with an iron fist. She just controlled everything."