A former principal at an ultra-Orthodox Jewish school in Australia was sentenced to 15 years in prison on Thursday for sexually assaulting two of her students, 15 years after she tried to avoid arrest by fleeing to Israel.
Malka Leifer, a former religion teacher and principal at Melbourne’s Adass Israel School, was convicted in April on 18 charges including raping a student at her home and sexually assaulting her sister. This happened during a class trip. She had been acquitted of sexually assaulting a third sister.
Melbourne Judge Mark Gamble on Thursday sentenced them to 15 years in prison, saying their “treacherous crime” left the two sisters with lifelong scars.
He added that Ms. Leifer is a “serious sex offender” who has shown “blatant indifference” toward her victims.
Ms. Leifer, a mother of eight, fled to Israel when rumors of her crimes circulated in 2008. Holding dual Israeli and Australian nationality, she fought valiantly to prevent his extradition in more than 70 audiences before finally being extradited to Australia in 2021.
As they left the court, sisters Dassi Erlich and Elly Sapper welcomed the judge’s decision to break down “the walls of silence” in Melbourne’s ultra-Orthodox community.
“We’re here today because we never gave up,” said Erlich. “This fight was never just for us. We show that the voices of the survivors are not and cannot be silenced, no matter the obstacles.”
“To everyone who survived such a nightmare: you are not alone, we all have your back,” she added.
Ms Leifer, dressed in a light blue prisoner’s uniform, appeared unperturbed as she listened to the verdict via video feed from her Melbourne prison.
The crimes happened from 2004 to 2007, when Ms. Leifer ran the school, which belonged to an ultra-Orthodox Jewish sect, and the two sisters were teenagers.
According to the indictment, Ms. Leifer raped a student in 2006 after inviting her to stay overnight for “kallah class,” a type of pre-marriage etiquette class. According to prosecutors, she told the students on several occasions that she was preparing them to become wives.
“It will help you on your wedding night,” she told a student after being sexually assaulted.
“It was a life in which Jewish laws and customs were very important and strictly observed,” Judge Gamble said.
According to the judge, this crushing environment and Leifer’s reputation in the Addass community made it extremely difficult for victims to come forward.