Australian prosecutor alleges principal molested 3 sisters
A former principal of a ultra-Orthodox Jewish girls school in the Australian city of Melbourne molested three sisters, a prosecutor said Wednesday. Malka Leifer, 56, has pleaded not guilty in the Victoria state County Court to 29 sexual offenses that were allegedly committed at the Adass Israel School and at her Melbourne home as well as at school camps at the Victorian rural towns of Blampied and Rawson between 2003 and 2007.
The school was excited by Tel Aviv-born Leifer's arrival from Israel in 2001, when the sisters were aged around 12, 14 and 16, prosecutor Justin Lewis told the jury.
“The complainants were aware that the accused had been brought over to Australia from Israel to teach by the school because of her good reputation,” Lewis said.
Leifer was married with eight children, two of them born in 2004 and 2005 while she was at the school, Lewis said.
She began as head of religious studies at the school and in 2003 became the principal. She decided to give the sisters teaching positions after they finished their final year of high school.
The girls came from a sheltered environment within Melbourne's ultra-Orthodox Hasidic community. The family did not have a television, newspapers, magazines or access to the internet at home, Lewis said.
“It was not acceptable within the community to say anything against a person of high standing in the community, especially as a child,” Lewis said. “As a result of being raised in an ultra-Orthodox community, the three complainants did not have any knowledge or understanding of sex throughout the period of the alleged offending.'' “As part of their religious and cultural practices, the complainants were not taught anything about sex until they were engaged to be married,” he added.
The eldest sister was a student and then a teacher at the school when she was allegedly molested by Leifer.
The sister “did not know about sex and didn't know that people touched each other. She was confused,” Lewis said.
“She felt too scared to move and scared of what the consequences would be if she told the accused to stop, especially because of the high esteem in which the accused was held within the school,” Lewis added.
Judge Mark Gamble imposed a gag order Tuesday that restricts media reporting on certain aspects of the case. Details of those restrictions cannot be reported.
Lewis is set to continue his opening address later Wednesday. Leifer's lawyer Ian Hill will then address the jury. The trial is scheduled to take six weeks.
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