Disgraced pedophile principal Malka Leifer was able to sexually abuse students because of her “high esteem” and reputation as an educator at a prestigious religious school, a court has been told.
Leifer’s fall from grace as a respected leader in Melbourne’s Orthodox Jewish community to convicted child abuser took a further step on Friday when a date was formally set for her sentencing in Victoria’s County Court.
Her defence counsel raised the question of whether Leifer would risk being punished twice over the offences because of the breach of trust involved.
The court was told her reputation as a teacher was formerly held in such “reverence” that she was able to pull people out of class with little to no reason.
“She inspired respect and fear in her victims,” Crown prosecutor Justin Lewis said.
He added she was able to “facilitate her offending” because of this high esteem.
In April, Leifer was convicted of 18 charges of sexually abusing sisters Elly Sapper and Dassi Erlich during her time as principal of Adass Israel School.
She was acquitted of nine charges, including some relating to the alleged abuse of the pair’s elder sister, Nicole Meyer.
Leifer’s guilty verdicts relate to incidents where she raped and indecently assaulted children between 2004 and 2007 on school trips, at her Elsternwick home and backstage at a school play.
Leifer returned home to Israel in 2008 when rumours of the abuse emerged.
She has always maintained her innocence.
During Friday’s hearing, Leifer’s defence barrister Ian Hill KC said the court needed to be wary that she would not be double punished for some of the offences.
Four of Leifer’s convictions arose from the same occasion, the court was told.
Mr Hill also submitted that his client had endured onerous conditions during her 608 days spent in home detention, as she was forced to live away from her husband and children.
“She was living in premises rented by her extended family,” he said.
“They were short-term accommodations, so as the lease or agreement ended another had to be found in the same city.
“She couldn’t attend to her normal duties … (and) was being kept under constant supervision.”
Judge Mark Gamble also questioned how he should take Leifer’s mental health into account during sentencing after prosecution submissions that she had “feigned” her illness to delay proceedings.
During an earlier hearing, Mr Lewis had urged the court to moderate the amount of time Leifer spent in pre-sentence custody.
“From 2014 to 2018, the prosecution says, Mrs Leifer is intentionally feigning mental illness and slowing the process down,” Mr Lewis last month argued.
A sentencing date of August 24 was agreed for Leifer to learn her fate.
Leifer, dressed in a baggy blue prison jumper, was remanded in custody.
The final sentencing date follows Leifer’s trial and emotional testimonies by the women she abused who told the court her conduct had “cast a shadow” over their lives.
“The constant reminders of her sexual abuse means her world continues to intrude upon my life during the day and in my sleep,” Ms Erlich, now 35, said.
“A world that is triggered by a smell, a thought, certain weather or time of year, and my body, without warning, is gripped by the memory of what she did.
“The abuse I had to survive did not make me stronger.
“The abuse forced me, numerous times, to choose between life and death, and each time I chose life, I became stronger.”
Ms Sapper, who was pregnant when she gave evidence during Leifer’s trial, said she refused to be defined by the broken fragments of herself.