An Australian court on Thursday sentenced Malka Leifer, an ultra-Orthodox principal, to possibly 15 years in prison after she was found guilty of sexually abusing sisters Dassi Erlich and Elly Sapper when they were high-school students, Australian media outlets reported.
Leifer was convicted earlier this year of 18 charges of sexual abuse. The charges included rape, indecent assault, sexual penetration of a child, and committing an indecent act with a child.
Leifer has maintained that she was innocent. She was acquitted of nine other charges, including five against the siblings’ older sister Nicole Meyer. Leifer cried during the sentencing, the media outlets reported.
Judge Mark Gamble of the Victorian County Court set a non-parole period of 11 and a half years, the reports said. Considering the time Leifer has already served, however, she will be eligible for parole in less than six years.
“I am satisfied that the sentence matches the severity of the offending,” Daniel Aghion, president of the Jewish Community Council of Victoria, the Australian state where Melbourne is located, said in a statement. “On behalf of the JCCV, I express an overwhelming sense of relief that this process has concluded. Every person in the Victorian Jewish community has a responsibility to do our utmost to protect children from harm. We stand with Dassi, Nicole and Elly, whose courage and tenacity is an example to us all.”
The judge who set the sentence said he had weighed Leifer’s lack of remorse – she has always denied the allegations against her – and her efforts to avoid prosecution, which included exaggerating her mental and physical health challenges in Israel.
The offenses occurred during her time as principal at the Adass Israel School in Melbourne.
Leifer fled to Israel in 2008 after rumors of her guilt began to surface in the local Jewish community. She was extradited to Australia to face the aforementioned charges. During this process, she spent 1,129 days in Israeli custody and 940 days in Australian custody before sentencing. The judge reportedly took that into account when handing down the sentence.
It took about 16 years from the time Erlich made the first accusation until Leifer was brought to justice.Leifer was found guilty of abusing the sisters, who were under her care from 2003-2007 at the Adass Israel School. They continued to be abused after they became student teachers and were between the ages of 16 and 18 at the time.
The judge read a statement from one of the victims that said: “[Leifer] knew a lot of things about me and implied if I said anything, she would share those things about my home life, which was a big shame to me at the time.”
During the sentencing, Gamble said Leifer “has no insight and no remorse. To date, she has not sought or received any professional treatment or counseling in relation to her offending.”“To have sexually abused the two complainants as she did, while a teacher and a principal, amounted to a significant breach of the trust that the students and the school placed in her,” the judge said.Zionist Federation of Australia President Jeremy Leibler said: “We stand by all of the survivors of Leifer’s abuse, and hope today will bring a measure of justice for them. The courage, dignity and determination of Dasi, Nicole and Elly inspired our whole community.”
JTA contributed to this report.