Sep 16, 2015

Melbourne Orthodox Jewish school ordered to pay $1.1m to abuse victim

Adass Israel School and former headmistress sued by ex-student who says she was sexually abused several times a week between 2003 and 2006.

September 16, 2015

A Melbourne Orthodox Jewish school that hired an Israeli headmistress accused of sexually abusing a student must pay more than $1.1m.

Adass Israel School and former headmistress Malka Leifer were sued by the ex-student who says she was sexually abused several times a week between 2003 and 2006.

The alleged abuse occurred in the headmistress’ home, at school camps and on school grounds.

The student, now aged in her 20s, was awarded compensation by judge John Rush who found the Elsternwick school was both “directly and vicariously liable for the conduct of Ms Leifer”.

Once allegations surfaced in 2008, Leifer was stood down by a committee linked to the school and plane tickets were purchased so she could quickly flee the country, the court heard.

Last August Leifer was arrested in Israel and is facing extradition to Australia to face charges. She is yet to face an Australian court.

“The failure of the board to report the allegations to police prior to arranging Leifer’s urgent departure is deplorable,” Rush said as he handed down his judgment on Wednesday.

The supreme court of Victoria heard the girl and her family belong to the ultra-orthodox Jewish community and her siblings grew up with no access to television, radio or newspapers, had no knowledge of world events and were isolated from anything beyond the Adass community.

Her 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 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 helping Leifer to leave the country.

Rush also ordered Leifer to pay the victim $150,000 in damages.

The hearing will continue on Thursday.

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