Prosecutors allege ultra-Orthodox principal Malka Leifer targeted three students, taking advantage of their “vulnerable” home lives to perpetrate her abuse.
Ms Leifer, 56, is facing trial in the County Court of Victoria over allegations she sexually abused three students while she was a teacher and principal at the Adass Israel School in Melbourne’s southeast.
On Wednesday, prosecutor Justin Lewis outlined the case against Ms Leifer saying the evidence the jury will hear allegedly demonstrates a “tendency” to have a sexual interest in girls, taking advantage of their vulnerability and her position of authority.
She has pleaded not guilty to 29 charges, including rape, sexual penetration of a child aged 16 or 17, indecent assault and indecent acts.
Her barrister, Ian Hill KC, told the jury Ms Leifer denies “all the criminal conduct alleged by each complainant”.
These offences allegedly occurred between January 2003 and December 2007.
Mr Lewis told the jury that Ms Leifer had been brought over from Israel in 2001 to teach at the Adass Israel School in Melbourne’s southeast.
She was appointed principal in 2003.
The school, he said, was for members of the ultra-Orthodox Hasidic community, noted for its religious conservatism and strict adherence to social seclusion.
The jury was told that Ms Leifer was the head of religious studies at the school, a position that held “a lot of weight in the school community”.
“She had the final say over many matters at the school,” Mr Lewis said.
“She was very persuasive and had a great deal of respect in the local community.”
Mr Lewis told the jury that Ms Leifer’s three alleged victims grew up living “sheltered” lives with little interaction with the wider Melbourne community.
They suffered, he alleged, physical and verbal abuse growing up.
Mr Lewis told the court the girls had a strict cultural upbringing, with no access to television, the internet or sex education – a topic which was avoided by the community until weeks before a wedding night.
The jury was told that Ms Leifer would “pick out” some students as her favourites.
“She had favourite students she would treat differently, such as asking them to come into her office for private conversations,” Mr Lewis alleged.
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.
During these alleged incidents, she’s alleged to have sexually touched, fondled and kissed the girls while telling them they were special and she loved them.
She allegedly told one girl in 2005 that she “loved her like a daughter”, Mr Lewis said.
“The three complainants did not have any understanding of sex throughout the period of offending,” Mr Lewis alleged.
“Although she (complainant one) felt uncomfortable, due to her cultural upbringing she did not know what was happening.
“She felt scared to move and what the consequences would be if she told her to stop.”
Describing one instance of alleged abuse just months before one of the complainants was to be married, Mr Lewis said Ms Leifer told her: “This will help you for your wedding night”.
Mr Lewis told the jury the prosecution’s case relies “heavily” on the testimony of the three alleged victims.
“It’s common in these sorts of cases where abuse tends to take place behind closed doors and away from prying eyes,” he said.
He said the alleged abuse came to light when one woman began seeing a social worker but was “so distraught she could only whisper”.
“She told her she was so naive she had no idea what was happening at the time,” Mr Lewis alleged.
The jury was told the alleged abuse continued after the girls completed year 12.
Ms Leifer’s barrister, Ian Hill KC, said his client denied she had done anything wrong and would dispute whether the criminal acts occurred.
“She had a proper and professional interaction with them as students,” he said.
He said evidence will be provided over the course of the trial about the “positive and glowing” relationships between Ms Leifer and her three alleged victims.
He told the jury they will have to decide whether the women are telling the truth and whether their allegations are “delusions” brought on by trauma from their “apparently abusive home lives”.
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