Former School Principal Faces 74 Child Sexual Abuse Charges

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School Principal

Alleged child sex offender Malka Leifer was extradited from Israel last week, just hours before the Israeli airports were closed due to coronavirus restrictions.

Her arrival back in Australia ends several years of negotiations between government officials at the highest levels here and in Israel.

The story so far

Ms Leifer fled to Israel when the allegations of child sex offences against her first surfaced in 2008. It’s alleged that the board of the Adass Israel School in Elsternwick in Melbourne’s inner south-east, part of the ultra-Orthodox Adass Israel community which is made up of about 200 families, helped her and her family to leave Australia.

Extradition to Australia

In 2016, an Israeli judge found Ms Leifer mentally unfit to face extradition and she was set free.  She was arrested two years later after an undercover police investigation revealed she was leading a “normal life” and going about normal daily activities in the ultra-Orthodox settlement of Emmanuel in Israel.

The former principal is charged with committing sex offences against three of her former students, between 2001 and 2008. She faces 74 charges, including rape, indecent assault, sexual penetration of a child and committing an indecent act with a child. It’s alleged that the abuse took place at school, on camp and at Ms Leifer’s home.

Civil case

The Adass Israel School was ordered to pay $1.27 million in compensation to one of the alleged victims in 2015.

Ms Leifer has strongly maintained her innocence, and has on a number of occasions cited panic attacks and other signs of mental strain as reasons for not attending scheduled court appearances. She finally lost an appeal challenging her extradition to Australia at the Supreme Court of Israel in December, which cleared the way for her to stand trial in Victoria.

Female sex offenders

Most people tend to think that child sex offenders are male. But experts suggest that the number of women who sexually abuse children is actually higher than we believe, and higher than conviction rates would suggest.

Data from the Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse recently revealed that, between 1950 and 2010, 60% of all abuse allegedly took place at faith-based institutions. Evidence showed that, in Catholic institutions, 95% of alleged offenders were men. This means the remaining 5% (or 96 of the 1,880 accused) were women.

Some experts suggest that because female sex offenders often go unreported and therefore are not prosecuted, the figure overall could be as high as 25%. There is very little research into the topic, but it’s understood that reasons for underreporting tend to be that victims feel they will be less likely to be believed, particularly male victims, who are conditioned by society to consider sexual attention from a female a ‘compliment’.

Tough child sex laws in New South Wales

Following the findings of the Royal Commission, In 2018 the New South Wales Government introduced a number of changes to child sex offences to strengthen the laws and provide better protection for victims.  These include:

One of those laws is the new offence of concealing child abuse, which is contained section 316A of the Crimes Act 1900. This law requires all adults to report child sexual abuse and failing to do so can lead to prison time of 2 years.

And section 43B of the Crimes Act contains the new offence of failing to reduce or remove the risk of a child becoming a victim of abuse. It applies to individuals carrying out child-related work, who are aware of a child abuse risk and have to power to do something about it. If a person fails to reduce or remove this risk, they can be jailed for up to 2 years.

And section 25AA was inserted into the Sentencing Procedure Act. It stipulates that for an historical child sex crime an offender must be sentenced under current laws and not those in place at the time the offence. As well, the court must consider the trauma sexual abuse has on children.

In New South Wales, Teachers are banned from having sexual relationships with students, irrespective of their age even if they are old enough to consent to the relationship. The crime carries maximum jail terms of between four and eight years.”

In 2018, the Justice Legislation Amendment Bill expanded the definition of teacher under the special care offence so that it covers:

  • teachers at the school beyond the student’s direct classroom teacher;
  • teachers who do not provide instruction to students such as the principal or deputy principal; and
  • people employed at the school who have care of or authority over students, which may include school counsellors, welfare officers or year advisors.

Anyone who has a sexual relationship with a  child in their ‘special care’ is committing a criminal offence which carries a  prison term of between 4 to 8 years.

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Sonia Hickey

Sonia Hickey is a freelance writer, magazine journalist, and owner of 'Woman with Words'. She has a strong interest in social justice and is a member of the Sydney Criminal Lawyers® content team. Sonia is the winner of the Mondaq Thought Leadership Awards, Spring 2022.

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