Malka Leifer has been sentenced to 15 years in prison for sexually abusing two former students, with a non-parole period of eleven-and-a-half years.
With time already served being taken into account, she could be released in 2029. The sentencing hearing was the culmination of a 15-year campaign for Leifer to face justice after being spirited out of Australia to Israel in 2008.
It follows the 56-year-old former principal of the Adass Israel School in Melbourne being found guilty in April of 18 of the 27 charges relating to the sexual abuse of sisters Dassi Erlich and Elly Sapper between 2003 and 2007. She was found not guilty over charges relating to a third sister, Nicole Meyer.
Leifer was not at the hearing in person, but attended via video link from the Dame Phyllis Frost Centre.
Posted by Dassi Erlich; Beyond a Survivor on Wednesday, August 23, 2023
Judge Mark Gamble said, “There is really nothing mitigatory about the manner in which Mrs Leifer committed these offences. In my considered view, the level of moral culpability involved in undertaking the course of sexual abuse that Mrs Leifer did, can only be described as very high.”
Judge Gamble called the case “striking for just how vulnerable each of the two victims were and for the calculating way” in which Leifer “took callous advantage of those vulnerabilities in order to sexually abuse them for her own sexual gratification”.
“Mrs Leifer was entrusted to look after the welfare of all of the female students, and the young student teachers who commenced working in the school immediately after finishing year 12,” he observed. “To have sexually abused the two complainants as she did, while a teacher and principal, amounted to a significant breach of trust that the school and the two complainants placed in her,” he said.
Saying he was not convinced Leifer has “in any way reformed”, Judge Gamble nonetheless noted she was unlikely to reoffend “due to the high likelihood that she will never find herself in the same position of authority again, not because she has reassessed her offending behaviours and chosen to reform”.
Judge Gamble had earlier noted that in his view Leifer’s experience of custody in Australia “has been a quite onerous one, and will likely continue to be so during the remainder of her time in Australian custody”.
“She presents as an isolated figure, who is distanced from all the important aspects of her life, including her family, culture, religion and her language, he said.
“Despite the sterling efforts of Corrections Victoria, for which they should be commended, the difficulties and challenges faced by Mrs Leifer cannot be fully ameliorated and I’ll accept that it is having an adverse effect on her mental health and will likely continue to do so until she is able to return to Israel.”
He also noted the effects on Leifer of “intense media interest and widespread reporting” of the case. “Mrs Leifer’s conduct has been very closely scrutinised and criticised in the public domain,” he said.
“Whilst media reporting is to be expected given the strong public interest, in this case the level to which it has risen along with the intended public opprobrium constitutes a form of extra material punishment, which it is appropriate to take into account when determining what constitutes a just punishment for this offending,” he said.
Judge Gamble earlier addressed the students who had been abused by Leifer, sisters Dassi Erlich and Elly Sapper, who were in court.
In their evidence they said they felt guilty that they failed to prevent the abuse by Malka Leifer.
Gamble said, “They were completely innocent victims of the predatory behaviour of Mrs Leifer, and it is she and she alone who should feel guilty.”
The two sisters smiled and spoke to family after the sentence was read out.
Read the full sentencing here.