Adass Israel School sex abuse scandal

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The Adass Israel School sex abuse scandal is a criminal case and extradition dispute regarding allegations of child sex abuse at an Orthodox Jewish religious school in Melbourne, Australia. Victoria Police have laid 74 charges against a former principal, Malka Leifer, concerning conduct from 2003 to 2008. At least eight victims have come forward and an investigation is ongoing.[1]

Leifer, a dual Israeli-Australian citizen,[2] fled under suspicious circumstances shortly before a warrant could be issued. She has remained in Israeli-controlled territory since 2008, under varying levels of supervision, pending the resolution of her extradition case.[3] The degree of freedom she has enjoyed in Israel has prompted a harsh response from senior Australian officials and media, and after a police investigation found evidence of malingering, the suspect was jailed. Allegations of further victims in the West Bank were made in June 2018.[1]

In 2015, the Supreme Court of Victoria awarded over AU$1 million against the school and also $150,000 exemplary damages personally against Leifer. Police confirm there is an ongoing investigation into the actions of some members of the Adass Israel community in helping her leave Australia.[4]

Background[edit]

The Adass Israel community is an Orthodox Jewish group in Melbourne that traces its origins to a split in the Elwood Shule in the early 1940s; some of its early members were boys and men who had been sent to Australia by the British on the infamous Dunera in 1941.[5] The community's synagogue is in Ripponlea and its school and chevra kadisha (Jewish funeral society) are located in nearby Elsternwick.

The community is strictly frum and has been described as "secretive" and "insular."[2][6] Children are raised without television, internet, radio, newspapers or magazines.[2] After the age of eight, boys and girls are kept entirely separate outside family homes, and the stories they are told never involve friendships between boys and girls. There is no sex education before marriage and little association with people outside the community, The Rabbi of the community acts as the ultimate authority for members.[7]

Allegations of abuse[edit]

In 2007 a woman in Israel, Dassi Erlich,[note 1] sought counselling when she started to have recurrent nightmares and anxiety about events that had taken place at Adass Israel School when she was in high school.[3][2] These incidents allegedly happened at the hands of Leifer, the principal of the school. After an arranged marriage in 2006 Erlich had moved to Israel with her husband.[2][9]:73 In February 2008 Erlich's therapist in Israel contacted a psychologist in Melbourne who in turn contacted a senior teacher she knew at the school. The information passed on is that there were substantial allegations that "inappropriate conduct" had been taking place by Leifer.[2][6][9]:41,44 The teacher phoned Erlich, and was convinced of the claims that there had been "clearly sexualised behaviour" by Leifer and "important boundaries had been crossed".[9]:44

The teacher then confronted Leifer who denied that there was any problem and subsequently reported the matter to two senior rabbis and with other rabbis, a barrister and a psychologist. There was a meeting arranged with the president and some members of the school board. Leifer was telephoned at the meeting and denied the allegations saying "You have destroyed my reputation. I'm not going to stand for this."[2]

Extradition case[edit]

The evening that the allegations came to light, the wife of a school board member rang a travel agent to say a flight to Israel was needed urgently. The school arranged, paid and booked tickets for Leifer and four of her eight children on an aircraft that departed at 1.20 am the same night, without having informed the police.[2] The police later investigated the school.[10] Following investigations by the police, a warrant was issued for 74 child sex offences concerning at least eight pupils, and an extradition request was placed with Israel. Leifer was then arrested in Israel in August 2014,[6][4] and placed under house arrest in Bnei Brak where she was required to wear an electronic tag.[2]

At the extradition hearings, Leifer claimed that she suffered extreme anxiety and panic attacks in the lead up to the hearing. She received a delay to the hearing. She has since deferred the hearings numerous times because of the mental health issues, with one judge suggesting that it could potentially be delayed up to a decade.[2][6][11]

In June 2016 an Israeli court suspended Leifer's extradition hearings and home detention but required a six-monthly psychiatric review to determine whether she could attend court in Israel.[8][12] As of early 2018 she has not been extradited,[13] and for a while she lived under Israeli jurisdiction without the restrictions of home detention.[14]

In February 2018, Leifer was arrested by Israeli police after an investigation into whether she had systematically feigned mental illness to avoid extradition.[15] The police investigation followed revelations by private investigators who captured over 200 hours of video of Leifer showing her leading a normal life, even though her defense team claimed that she was incapacitated due to her illness.[16] Her legal team claimed that the arrest and the re-opening of the case was due to political pressure from Australia and not a legal matter.[17] A new assessment has shown her fit to stand trial in Australia, but the extradition has been held back temporarily to allow her legal team to review the new information. She is being kept in detention rather than house arrest.[18]

In March 7, 2018, the judge ruled that Leifer was to be released while further investigation was to take place. She was released into the custody of Rabbi Yitzchak Dovid Grossman who gave testimony in her favor claiming it was a "humiliation" for her to remain in custody.[19] However, after Grossman withdrew his offer, she was held in prison until extradition proceedings, due to start in May 2018, are over.[20][21] The Jerusalem District Court then ruled that the alleged perpetrator will remain in custody and is to go for a second round of psychiatric testing to see she is fit to stand a trial for extradition.[22]

Then in June 2018, a psychiatrist after examining Leifer stated she was suffering from emotional distress, “but not due to the mental illness she was claiming.” Then a Jerusalem court ordered that she be placed in house arrest under 24-hour a day supervision of a local rabbi and other court-approved monitors.[23]

Dassi Erlich and civil case[edit]

One of the alleged victims of the case, Dassi Erlich came out publicly in March 2017, and began campaigning for the extradition and changes in the Adass community.[8]

In 2015, prior to the public revelation of her name, Erlich sued the school in a civil case. In September 2015, after the school had refused to settle out of court, a civil case in the Supreme Court of Victoria in Melbourne[9] awarded Erlich $1.27 million in damages against the Adass Israel School and the alleged perpetrator.[2][6][8]

As part of her evidence, Erlich described the extreme sexual naivety of the children in the community, and how that was used against her, even being unaware of the most basic elements of relationships and any sexual activity.[2] This continued through high school, and after when Erlich was given a job at the school, where the abuse continued.[24]

It was said by the judge, Jack Rush "that the sexual abuse occurred under the guise of Jewish education by the headmistress of the school makes the breach of trust associated with the abuse monstrous. The evidence discloses the sole motivation of the suspect in her dealings with the plaintiff was her own sexual gratification." He described the breach of trust as evil and ordered the perpetrator to personally pay $150,000 exemplary damages[note 2] to Erlich.[2][9]:223

Justice Rush said that, at the time Leifer had left, the president of the school board knew of eight additional allegations of sexual abuse on other girls. The school had had an obligation to report the matters to the police before arranging her departure. He rejected the school's argument that it had been a legal obligation to pay her air fares. The school argued that it was not liable because it was the congregation, not the school, that was the employer, but the judge also rejected this.[2]

Both of Erlich's sisters, who had also been abused, received out of court settlements from the school independent of this case.[8]

Erlich has since remained in the public eye, campaigning for the return of Leifer, and for abuse survivors, including meeting with many communal leaders and politicians.[8] Her coming forward to the secular authorities have made her a traitor in the eyes of some in her community, which she has subsequently left.[25]

Aftermath[edit]

Meir Shlomo Kluwgant was appointed principal of Adass Israel school in June 2017. There was significant anger in the community with the appointment, because of Kluwgant's role in the Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse.[26] In February 2015, he stepped down from his numerous communal posts at the time because of his response to the evidence of the father of a sexual abuse victim at another ultra-orthodox school in Melbourne. He had sent a text message to the editor of the Australian Jewish News accusing the father of being a “a lunatic on the fringe, guilty of neglecting his own children”. The father's evidence had been that his family had been targeted and ostracised by religious leaders when he had gone public with his allegations.[27]

The Victorian minister of education said he understood the concern and asked for an explanation from the school. The head of Adass Israel, Zvi Beck asked for further consultation on the appointment. In August 2017 Kluwgant resigned from the school.[28]

In 2018 Kluwgant commenced an action for defamation against a spokesman for the victims at the school who, he claimed, had contacted the school when his pending appointment was announced, to say he was "the scum of the earth" and later to call for him to be dismissed.[29]

Political interventions[edit]

In October 2017 Erlich and two of her sisters went to Israel to campaign for Leifer's extradition, meeting the Minister of Justice, the senior prosecutor in the department of international affairs and members of the Knesset.[30] The following month the Australian prime minister Malcolm Turnbull met his Israeli counterpart, Benjamin Netanyahu and raised the matter of the delayed extradition with him.[31] The premier of Victoria, Daniel Andrews, also raised the case with Netanyahu who said he will have a fresh look at the situation.[32]

Federally the extradition of Leifer remains a bipartisan issue, with Mark Dreyfus confirming that Labor would continue to pressure for her to face justice in Australia.[33]

Members of the Jewish community have also called for the extradition.[34]

See also[edit]

Notes[edit]

  1. ^ Earlier news reports did not name the individual but in March 2017 she decided to seek publicity and her name was widely published.[8]
  2. ^ "Exemplary damages are damages over and above those necessary to compensate the plaintiff. They are awarded to punish the defendant. They are intended to act as a deterrent to the defendant, and to others minded to behave in a like manner. They are also intended to demonstrate the court’s disapprobation and denunciation of such conduct."[9]:208

References[edit]

  1. ^ a b "A haven for paedophiles: The ultra-Orthodox settlement where Malka Leifer hides". Sydney Morning Herald. 2017-06-30. Retrieved 2018-07-10.
  2. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l m n Stewart, Cameron (19 September 2015). "Cover-up of sex abuse by girls' school principal dishonours Adass". www.theaustralian.com.au. Retrieved 23 January 2018.
  3. ^ a b Milligan, Louise (23 October 2017). "Jewish community investigated over escape of principal accused of abuse". ABC News. Archived from the original on 24 January 2018. Retrieved 23 January 2018.
  4. ^ a b Milligan, Louise (23 October 2017). "Jewish community investigated over escape of principal accused of abuse". ABC News. Archived from the original on 24 January 2018. Retrieved 23 January 2018.
  5. ^ "Adass Israel Congregation". St Kilda Historical Society. Retrieved 11 July 2018.
  6. ^ a b c d e McNeill, Sophie (7 April 2016). "Student says alleged paedophile Malka Leifer 'manipulated all of us'". ABC News. Archived from the original on 21 May 2017. Retrieved 23 January 2018.
  7. ^ "A world of their own". 30 September 2011. Archived from the original on 23 August 2017. Retrieved 1 February 2018.
  8. ^ a b c d e f Kleinman, Rachel (17 December 2017). "Dassi's journey: from Adass abuse survivor to campaigner for justice". The Age. Retrieved 24 January 2018.
  9. ^ a b c d e f "Erlich v Leifer & Anor [2015] VSC 499 (16 September 2015)". www.austlii.edu.au. Supreme Court of Victoria. 16 September 2015. Retrieved 25 January 2018.
  10. ^ "Jewish community investigated over escape of principal accused of abuse". ABC News. 23 October 2017. Archived from the original on 24 January 2018. Retrieved 1 February 2018.
  11. ^ Pileggi, Tamar. "Judge orders new psych test for teacher wanted in Australia". Times of Israel. Archived from the original on 3 January 2018. Retrieved 24 January 2018.
  12. ^ "Accused Victorian pedophile walks free in Israel". SBS News. 23 June 2016. Archived from the original on 3 January 2018. Retrieved 24 January 2018.
  13. ^ "Former Adass Israel Jewish girls' school principal Malka Leifer evades extradition hearings - ABC News (Australian Broadcasting Corporation)". mobile.abc.net.au. Archived from the original on 23 April 2018. Retrieved 31 January 2018.
  14. ^ Shuttleworth, Kate (8 July 2016). "Malka Leifer: former Adass Israel principal and alleged child abuser living free in Israel". The Age. Archived from the original on 2 February 2018. Retrieved 1 February 2018.
  15. ^ Berger, Yotam (12 February 2018). "Israel Arrests Australian Principal Suspected of Abusing ultra-Orthodox Schoolgirls". Haaretz. Archived from the original on 12 February 2018. Retrieved 12 February 2018.
  16. ^ Holmes, Oliver (1 March 2018). "The videos that show alleged Melbourne child sex abuser living 'normal, healthy' life in Israel". the Guardian. Archived from the original on 2 March 2018. Retrieved 1 March 2018.
  17. ^ "Alleged sex offender fighting extradition to Australia finally appears in Israeli court - ABC News (Australian Broadcasting Corporation)". mobile.abc.net.au. Archived from the original on 23 April 2018. Retrieved 28 February 2018.
  18. ^ "Israeli court told alleged sex offender is fit to stand trial in Australia". ABC News. 28 February 2018. Archived from the original on 23 April 2018. Retrieved 28 February 2018.
  19. ^ "Alleged sex offender Malka Leifer freed from detention". The New Daily. 7 March 2018. Archived from the original on 7 March 2018. Retrieved 7 March 2018.
  20. ^ "Supreme Court: Malka Leifer must remain in prison". Israel National News. Arutz Sheva. 21 March 2018. Archived from the original on 21 March 2018.
  21. ^ Hawkins, Belinda; Farnsworth, Sarah (22 April 2018). "Inside the insular Jewish community where school headmistress allegedly preyed on girls". ABC News. Archived from the original on 23 April 2018.
  22. ^ http://www.jwire.com.au/new-delay-in-leifer-extradition-process-survivors-frustrating-but-making-progress/
  23. ^ https://www.japantimes.co.jp/news/2018/03/07/asia-pacific/israel-puts-australia-pedophile-suspect-house-arrest/
  24. ^ Farkash, Tali; Megnazi, Aviel (14 May 2015). "Haredi principal sued for years of sexual abuse in Australia". Ynetnews. Archived from the original on 2 January 2018. Retrieved 24 January 2018.
  25. ^ "Malka Leifer – The Queen of Molestation Still Evading Justice". LOSTMESSIAH. 25 October 2017. Archived from the original on 8 March 2018. Retrieved 7 March 2018.
  26. ^ "Australia's most senior rabbi resigns after damning testimony". ABC News. 16 February 2015. Archived from the original on 11 August 2016. Retrieved 1 February 2018.
  27. ^ Davidson, Helen (4 July 2017). "Senior rabbi who stepped down following royal commission appointed school principal". the Guardian. Archived from the original on 4 January 2018. Retrieved 1 February 2018.
  28. ^ "Kluwgant quits Adass - The Australian Jewish News". The Australian Jewish News. 17 August 2017. Archived from the original on 24 January 2018. Retrieved 1 February 2018.
  29. ^ "Kluwgant v Weinberg". J-Wire. 3 January 2018. Archived from the original on 4 January 2018. Retrieved 1 February 2018.
  30. ^ "Jewish community investigated over escape of principal accused of abuse". ABC News. 23 October 2017. Archived from the original on 24 January 2018. Retrieved 1 February 2018.
  31. ^ Lillebuen, Steve (23 October 2017). "PM to push Israel for extradition of ex-principal accused of abusing girls". The Age. Archived from the original on 2 January 2018. Retrieved 1 February 2018.
  32. ^ "Israel PM to weigh in on Melbourne teacher sex case". Retrieved 2018-02-01.
  33. ^ "Former Adass Israel Jewish girls' school principal Malka Leifer evades extradition hearings - ABC News (Australian Broadcasting Corporation)". mobile.abc.net.au. Archived from the original on 23 April 2018. Retrieved 1 February 2018.
  34. ^ "Media Release: ECAJ dismayed at latest Malka Leifer ruling | ECAJ - Executive Council of Australian Jewry". ECAJ - Executive Council of Australian Jewry. 31 January 2018. Archived from the original on 2 February 2018. Retrieved 1 February 2018.