August 24, 2023

Malka Leifer trial live updates: Former Elsternwick school principal to be sentenced over student abuse

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Pinned post from 12.47pm

Leifer sentenced to 15 years behind bars

By David Estcourt

Malka Leifer, former principal of an ultra-Orthodox Jewish school, has been sentenced to 15 years in jail for sexually abusing two former students.

County Court Judge Mark Gamble imposed a non-parole period of 11 1/2 years, but with time served, Leifer will be eligible for parole in less than six years.

“This case is striking for just how vulnerable these victims were, and for the calculating way in which the offender, Mrs Leifer, took callous advantage of those vulnerabilities in order to sexually abuse them for her own sexual gratification,” Gamble said.

Leifer was found guilty of 18 offences against sisters Elly Sapper and Dassi Erlich between 2003 and 2007.

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2.01pm

Sentencing closes 15-year legal fight to bring Leifer to justice

By Caroline Schelle

We will leave our live coverage of the sentencing of former ultra-Orthodox principal Malka Leifer there.

To recap, Leifer was sentenced to 15 years behind bars for the sexual abuse and rape of sisters Dassi Erlich and Elly Sapper, who were pupils at the Adass Israel School in Elsternwick.

County Court Judge Mark Gamble addressed the sisters in court today, saying:

They were completely innocent victims of the predatory behaviour of Mrs Leifer, and it is she and she alone who should feel guilty.”

Judge Gamble imposed a non-parole period of 11 1/2 years, but Leifer will be eligible for parole in less than six years due to time served in pre-sentence detention.

If this coverage has raised any issues for you, and you require support, call the National Sexual Assault, Domestic and Family Violence Counselling Service on 1800RESPECT (1800 737 732).

1.47pm

Sisters speak of relief that Leifer cannot prey on anyone else

By Caroline Schelle

The victims of Malka Leifer have spoken outside court after the judge sentenced the former ultra-Orthodox Jewish principal to 15 years in jail for sexual abuse and rape.

The 56-year-old principal was found guilty of sexually assaulting and raping Elly Sapper and Dassi Erlich between 2003 and 2007, while they were pupils at Adass Israel School in Elsternwick.

The jury found Leifer guilty of 18 rape and sexual assault charges and not guilty of nine. She was cleared of all charges relating to a third sister, Nicole Meyer.

From left: Sisters Dassi Erlich, Elly Sapper and Nicole Meyer leave court after the sentencing.Credit: Luis Ascui

But the three sisters stood united outside the County Court of Victoria in Melbourne today.

Elly Sapper spoke first, saying the ruling recognised the harm and pain that Malka Leifer had caused to the women.

“This is a momentous day to be standing outside court. We feel overwhelmed and grateful that the legal system has recognised and validated the extreme impact of abuse by female perpetrators,” she said.

Sapper said trauma from sexual abuse was a lifelong sentence.

“While no amount of years will ever be sufficient, we are so relieved that Malka Leifer is now in prison for 15 years and cannot prey on anyone else,” Sapper said.

Her sister Nicole Meyer spoke next, telling reporters it had been 12 years since they walked into a police station and “broke the walls of silence” in the ultra-Orthodox Jewish community.

Then Dassi Erlich addressed the media, saying the group were there today because they didn’t give up.

“While we know … fighting for justice should not be up to survivors, this fight was never just for us. We are showing that the voices of survivors will not and cannot be silenced, no matter the obstacles,” she said.

It was one of the most traumatising, destabilising and painful paths to justice, she said.

“Today really marks the end of this chapter to our lives.”

1.19pm

‘Incredible day for justice’, Manny Waks says of sentence

By Caroline Schelle

While we wait for Dassi Erlich and Elly Sapper to speak outside court, victim advocacy group Voice Against Child Sexual Abuse released a statement about the case.

Founder and outgoing chief executive Manny Waks said it was an “incredible day for justice”.

“The sentencing of Malka Leifer is the pinnacle of a drawn-out, David v Goliath battle and marks a significant step towards justice for the courageous survivors … who have endured immense pain and suffering due to Leifer’s criminal and heinous actions.”

He said their bravery to share their story publicly led to the moment, and the sisters deserved the “utmost respect and support”.

“I hope that today’s sentencing will assist in their healing process,” Waks said.

He said the sentence offered a sense of closure, there was ongoing work ahead and that it was important to foster an environment where victims could feel safe enough to come forward.

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1.01pm

Sisters smile after Leifer is sentenced

By David Estcourt

Sisters Elly Sapper and Dassi Erlich could be seen smiling and speaking to family and supporters after their abuser Malka Leifer was sentenced to 15 years in prison.

Leifer, who appeared via video link from the Dame Phyllis Frost Centre, quickly walked out of view.

The sisters are expected to speak outside court shortly, and we will bring you their reactions.

12.47pm

Leifer sentenced to 15 years behind bars

By David Estcourt

Malka Leifer, former principal of an ultra-Orthodox Jewish school, has been sentenced to 15 years in jail for sexually abusing two former students.

County Court Judge Mark Gamble imposed a non-parole period of 11 1/2 years, but with time served, Leifer will be eligible for parole in less than six years.

“This case is striking for just how vulnerable these victims were, and for the calculating way in which the offender, Mrs Leifer, took callous advantage of those vulnerabilities in order to sexually abuse them for her own sexual gratification,” Gamble said.

Leifer was found guilty of 18 offences against sisters Elly Sapper and Dassi Erlich between 2003 and 2007.

12.38pm

Crimes had ‘devastating impact’ on victims, Gamble tells court

By Caroline Schelle

The survivors of Malka Leifer suffered lasting harm because of the sexual abuse, and the former principal has continued to maintain her innocence.

“Leifer continues to strenuously maintain [her] innocence of the offences for which a jury has convicted her with respect to that offending,” Judge Mark Gamble told the County Court.

“She has no insight and no remorse, to date she has not sought or received any professional treatment or counselling in relation to her offending.”

He said Leifer’s offending was considered as very serious, predatory and involved the “exploitation and manipulation of two very vulnerable victims”.

The crimes took place over an extended period of time, for four years, and there was a significant power and maturity imbalance.

“It was undertaken for no better reason than her own sexual gratification, and unsurprisingly, it has had a devastating impact on each victim.”

He said there was nothing mitigatory in how Leifer committed the offences, and her moral culpability was high.

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12.13pm

Leifer took ‘callous advantage’ of sisters who yearned for loving mother

By Caroline Schelle

Judge Mark Gamble says the former school principal was aware of the vulnerabilities of her two victims and took “callous advantage” of them.

Sisters Elly Sapper and Dassi Erlich were ignorant of sexual matters because of their upbringing and were “very vulnerable” to the abuse at the hands of Leifer.

The sisters were also subjected to their mother’s “cruel and frightening upbringing”, and yearned for a loving and supportive mother figure, Gamble said.

The judge said that fact made each of the victims a “vulnerable and a potential target” for any adult female who was prepared to take advantage of it.

Gamble said Leifer was aware of those vulnerabilities and was “prepared to take callous advantage of that situation in order to sexually abuse” the two sisters.

12.00pm

Media scrutiny of Leifer case ‘intense’, judge says

By Caroline Schelle

We’re nearing the end of the sentencing hearing now, and County Court Judge Mark Gamble has noted the media coverage of the case.

He told the court there was international reporting and the response negatively impacted Malka Leifer.

“This case has been in the spotlight over a lengthy period and has received intense media interest and widespread reporting in Australia and overseas,” he said.

He said at times “the coverage has been particularly intense”, and Leifer’s conduct has been closely scrutinised and criticised in the public domain.

Gamble said media reporting is to be expected, but noted the level to which it had risen constitutes a “form of extracurial punishment” which should be considered.

11.42am

Leifer shows ‘no remorse’ and was responsible for delaying proceedings

By Caroline Schelle

Judge Mark Gamble is speaking about Malka Leifer’s mental health issues and the hardships she faces in prison.

He has told the court the 56-year-old woman’s adjustment disorder can be considered as a mitigating factor, but she was “not entitled to exaggerate or intensify” her condition.

“By doing so, Mrs Leifer was personally responsible for delaying the proceedings and for extending to some extent, the time that she was required to spend under house arrest.”

He said it was a “nuanced situation”, because Leifer’s opposition to extradition was “neither wholly legitimate nor wholly illegitimate”.

The judge also said it was Leifer’s legal right to enter pleas of not guilty against the charges.

“Whilst you also have a right to continue to maintain your innocence, as you have, there is no evidence of remorse or contrition upon which I could rely to mitigate your sentence,” he said.

The judge also spoke about the difficulties Leifer faced while in prison, where she has been since January 2021.

He noted she was far removed from her culture, religion, and in particular her family, and had only two personal visits from each of her eldest children.

She is the only Jewish woman at Dame Phyllis Frost Centre, English was not her first language, and she was unable to engage in any group activities because of this, Gamble said.

He added she was also in protective custody.

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11.22am

Leifer ‘exaggerated or intensified’ mental health issues to avoid extradition

By Caroline Schelle

Judge Mark Gamble has spoken about Malka Leifer’s mental health, after extradition proceedings were halted in Israel.

He said Leifer’s lawyers in Israel successfully submitted she was unfit to stand trial, and the case was cancelled, but after a police investigation, the extradition process resumed.

“A question that arose as to whether Mrs Leifer had feigned mental illness leading up to the extradition issue, which was contested and ultimately determined by an [Israeli] District Court judge, whose decision was appealed to the Supreme Court of Israel,” he said.

Gamble told the court he was barred from having regard to overseas decisions and findings, but was able to consider reports and evidence given by psychiatrists and psychologists involved in the proceedings.

He said Leifer suffered an adjustment disorder with embedded symptoms of depression and anxiety related to her arrest and extradition.

“However, it is equally clear from the available evidence that Mrs Leifer exaggerated, or intensified her mental health problems so as to delay and even frustrate the extradition proceedings,” Gamble said.

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