Three sisters who were allegedly sexually abused by former Jewish school principal Malka Leifer had “no idea” what was happening because of their cultural upbringing, a jury has been told.
Ms Leifer, 56, is facing trial in the County Court of Victoria over allegations she sexually abused three sisters “for years” as they grew up in an insular ultra-Orthodox Hasidic community in Melbourne’s southeast.
She has pleaded not guilty to 29 charges, including rape, sexual penetration of a child aged 16 or 17, indecent assault and indecent acts.
The jury has heard the alleged abuse occurred between 2003 and 2007 while she was principal at the Adass Israel School.
Eight of the charges allegedly occurred when the girls were under the age of 18, while the remainder are alleged to have occurred after they graduated and took teaching positions at the school.
The jury heard Ms Leifer had been brought over from Israel in 2001 with her husband and two children to be the head of religious studies, a position which “held a lot of weight in the school community”.
“She had the final say over many matters at the school,” Crown Prosecutor Justin Lewis said.
“She was very persuasive and had a great deal of respect in the local community.”
Her barrister, Ian Hill KC, said Ms Leifer denies “all the criminal conduct alleged by each complainant”.
“She had a proper and professional interaction with them as students,” he said.
“There will be other evidence about the positive, glowing relationship between the three sisters and Ms Leifer.”
The women – Melbourne sisters Nicole Meyer, Dassi Erlich and Elly Sapper – have given NCA NewsWire permission to use their names.
Outlining the prosecution case on Wednesday, Mr Lewis said while the girls felt uncomfortable around Ms Leifer, they had no understanding of what was allegedly occurring because of their isolated upbringing.
He told the jury the three girls had a strict cultural upbringing, with no access to television, the internet or sex education – a topic avoided by the community until shortly before their wedding night.
Speaking about Ms Meyer, he said: “(she) never consented sexual acts because she had no idea what the accused was doing to her”.
Mr Lewis said Ms Erlich once attempted to strike up a friendship with another teacher at the school to ask if what was allegedly happening was normal, but a “jealous” Ms Leifer shut it down.
“She was told it was bad to have a connection with anyone else,” he said.
He told the court Ms Sapper would ask Ms Leifer to stop on “almost every occasion”, but Ms Leifer would allegedly not respond or say “this is good for you”.
Prosecutors allege Ms Leifer repeatedly created circumstances where she and the girls could be alone at school, on school trips or during “private education” sessions at her Elsternwick home.
She would ask the girls to call her “mother” and tell them she loved them, Mr Lewis said.
On Thursday, Ms Leifer’s three alleged victims are expected to provide testimony in a closed court sitting.
Mr Hill told the jury each charge was denied and the “credibility and reliability” of the witnesses would be a central issue of the trial.
He said the defence would explore inconsistencies in the testimony of the three women, including why their accounts had “developed” over the past decade.
In the case of Ms Meyer, he said, her accusations had “evolved over time”, pointing to a statement to police in 2011 where she allegedly did not mention rape.
Eight men and seven women make up the jury hearing the allegations against Ms Leifer.
At the end of the trial, which could run for up to six weeks, only 12 of them will be called to reach a verdict.
The trial, before Judge Mark Gamble, continues.
Story Credit: news.com.au