Australian school principal stands trial on rape charges

MELBOURNE, AUSTRALIA – The former principal of an ultra-orthodox Jewish school in Australia went on trial Wednesday over charges she sexually assaulted three female students.

Malka Leifer, 56, has been charged with 29 offences stemming from her time as the principal of the Adass Israel School in Melbourne, according to an indictment released by the court.

The school is part of an ultra-orthodox Jewish sect in Melbourne known for its reclusive nature.

The charges, stretching from 2003 to 2007, included raping a student during a school camp, and sexually assaulting another girl inside a school office.

She was also accused of sexually assaulting one of the students after asking her to come over and clean her house.

Leifer, a mother-of-eight who left Israel in 2001 to teach at the school, has pleaded not guilty to each charge.

According to the indictment, Leifer raped one student after inviting her home to “sleep over for kallah lessons” — a kind of pre-wedding etiquette class that includes sexual education.

On other occasions Leifer told the students she was preparing them to be wives, prosecutor Justin Lewis told the court in his opening statement.

“This will help you for your wedding night,” Leifer said after one sexual assault, according to Lewis.

“This is what is good for you,” she allegedly said during another incident.

The 29 charges included 10 counts of rape, 10 counts of indecent assault, and three counts of sexually penetrating “a 16 or 17 year old child”.

– Sheltered upbringing –

Lewis told the court the three students had a sheltered upbringing that made it difficult to raise the alarm about Leifer, who was a highly respected teacher.

One of the students told Leifer that her mother had been physically and verbally abusive at home, the court heard.

Leifer would later use this information to discourage the student from making a complaint, Lewis said, indicating that she would “tell everyone” about the student’s family life in retaliation.

The allegations finally came to light when one of the students confided in her therapist, Lewis told the court.

Defence lawyer Ian Hill said Leifer denied “all of the criminal conduct alleged by each of the complainants” and that her interactions with the students were “professional and proper”.

“We deny that they are telling the truth,” he said.

Hill said Leifer told a fellow teacher in 2008 that she had “done nothing wrong”.

Australia has strict laws surrounding the reporting of sexual assault, and some details of the case have been suppressed. – AFP

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