Three sisters are encouraging victims to speak up against their abusers

#31 - Exposing sexual abuse: The Sapper sisters

(L-R) Dassi Erlich, Elly Sapper, Nicole Meyer (Photo credit: AJN2) (photo credit: JERUSALEM POST)
(L-R) Dassi Erlich, Elly Sapper, Nicole Meyer (Photo credit: AJN2)
(photo credit: JERUSALEM POST)
In Jewish communities around the world, especially in ultra-Orthodox circles, pedophilia has traditionally been something that was not discussed.
That is changing, thanks to the courageous efforts of the Sapper sisters, who have tirelessly fought for the extradition to their native Australia of their allegedly sexual abuser, their then-school principal Malka Leifer.
In 2007, one of the sisters, Dassi Erlich, who was living in Israel at the time, began having nightmares and anxiety attacks, and sought professional help. During her sessions with a therapist, the story of what had happened to her as an adolescent gradually emerged. The therapist contacted a Melbourne psychologist, who in turn contacted a senior teacher at the Adass Israel School for Girls, where the Sapper sisters, who were from a family of seven siblings, were overseen by Leifer.
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The teacher confronted Leifer who denied any wrongdoing. Seeking to prevent harm to any other student, the teacher took the matter to the school’s leading rabbis who convened a meeting with members of the school board. Keen to avoid a public shaming, it was quickly arranged via the board for Leifer and her family to immediately return to Israel, from where she had come to Melbourne in 2001.
Erlich subsequently returned to Australia and filed a police complaint. As police investigations intensified, there were more reports of incidents of sexual abuse that had been instigated by Leifer. There were at least eight other pupils on whom Leifer had foisted her attentions. Police toted up 74 charges against her, and called for her extradition. But Leifer’s lawyers kept insisting that she was mentally unfit to stand trial. The case dragged on and on with hearings in Israel to determine Leifer’s mental state; while extradition requests came from high-ranking Australians to their Israeli counterparts. Malcom Turnbull, while prime minister of Australia, met with Erlich and later brought up the extradition in conversation with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. Australia’s Attorney-General Christian Porter during a visit to Israel, did the same at his meeting with his Israeli counterpart Avichai Mandelblit.
Erlich and her sisters, Nicole Meyer and Elly Sapper, have come to Israel to attend Leifer hearings, and during their visits have also met with Israeli politicians, including Ayelet Shaked when she was justice minister.
The sisters have also testified before the Royal Commission on Institutional Responses to Child Abuse.
Erlich started the “Bring Leifer Back” campaign, which received a lot of support from Jews and non-Jews alike.
It seems as though Erlich’s efforts might finally bear fruit, because in May of this year the Jerusalem District Court court determined that Leifer was fit to stand trial. Leifer’s subsequent appeal was rejected in September by the Supreme Court.
Waks, Erlich and her two sisters are active in encouraging victims of sexual abuse to speak up and speak out. Only when potential perpetrators are aware that their victims will not be afraid to go to the police is there a chance that such abuse will be greatly reduced.
And it will be due, in part, to the efforts of Erlich and her sisters.