An ultra-orthodox Jewish school in Melbourne faces one of the State’s largest payouts to a victim of child sexual abuse after being ordered to pay more than $1 million to a former student for the “monstrous” molestation by its headmistress.
In a damning Supreme Court judgment, the Adass Israel School was ordered to pay just over $1.2 million for the “wanton” abuse suffered by the woman as a student by then principal and mother-of-eight, Malka Leifer.
The Elsternwick-based school and Leifer were sued by the ex-student who says she was sexually abused several times a week between 2003 and 2006.
“There can be no more serious charge levelled against a headmistress of a girls’ school than that such headmistress has abused the trust reposed in her by sexually abusing those in her charge,” Justice Jack Rush found.
Justice Rush slammed the school for helping Leifer flee the country after the abuse allegations came to light in 2008 and before police were notified, describing its actions as “deplorable”, “disgraceful”, “deliberate” and deserving of the Supreme Court’s “disapprobation and denunciation”.
The alleged abuse occurred in the headmistress’ home, at school camps and on school grounds.
Leifer is currently under house arrest in Israel and is facing extradition to Australia where she is wanted on 74 counts of sexual assault.
She is yet to face an Australian court.
The Adass Israel School in Elsternwick.
Justice Rush was scathing of some members of the school’s board who conspired to help Leifer leave Australia following the abuse revelations before they were reported to police.
“The conduct amounts to disgraceful, contumelious behaviour demonstrating a complete disregard of Leifer’s victims of which the plaintiff was one,” he said.
“The conduct demonstrates a disdain for due process of criminal investigation in this State.”
He said the speed with which the school stood Leifer down as headmistress was only matched by the “speed of her arranged departure”.
Justice Rush described Leifer’s behaviour towards the victim as evil, destructive and motivated by sexual gratification with no regard to her student’s welfare or rights.
He said Leifer took advantage of the fact that the female students at the school were from ultra-orthodox Jewish families, bought up with no access to television, radio, internet, magazines or newspapers and with no sexual experience or education.
The victim’s first contact with the outside world was in 2011 when she was admitted to a clinic after she became suicidal, she previously told the court.
“(The victim) was completely closed off from the world, ignorant in matters of sex, unaware of the inappropriateness of Leifer’s conduct towards her,” he found.
The woman suffered depression, post-traumatic stress, and had flashbacks that made it difficult to bond with her daughter, born in 2010, but was refused support or money for counselling from the school, she said.
The school has been ordered to pay $1,024,428 in compensatory damages as well as $100,000 for assisting Ms Leifer to leave the country.
Justice Rush also ordered Ms Leifer to pay the victim $150,000 in damages.