Judgment awarded against Malka Leifer and Adass Israel School

Supreme Court of Victoria
September 16, 2015

The Supreme Court today awarded more than $1.27 million in damages and compensation to a woman sexually abused by the headmistress of the Adass Israel School, Mrs Malka Leifer, between 2003 and 2006.

Evidence was given that the plaintiff was brought up in a home with no access to television, radio, internet, magazines or newspapers. Not even a sales catalogue entered the home. Children did not grow up knowing of world events; children were completely isolated from anything 'beyond the community you were within', the community adhering to an exceptionally rigid, strict code of behaviour.

The School was in every sense a religious school. Its philosophies and policies were sourced in the traditions and values of Ultra Orthodox Judaism. The School maintains strict adherence to those philosophies.

The evidence demonstrated that Leifer was the most powerful and preeminent figure within the girls' campus of the School.

The plaintiff viewed Leifer as someone that was completely trustworthy. It is within this setting that the sexual molestation of the plaintiff by Leifer commenced

That the plaintiff's upbringing had been so closed and restricted meant she was extraordinarily vulnerable to a person such as Leifer.

That the sexual abuse occurred under the guise of Jewish education by the headmistress of the School and the person in charge of Jewish studies makes the breach of trust associated with the abuse monstrous.

Leifer's control and authority within the girls' campus of the School was unrestrained and unrestricted. In that sense, Justice Rush found that her misconduct was the misconduct of the School and that therefore the School is directly liable for her conduct.

Justice Rush also concluded that the School is vicariously liable for the sexual abuse committed by Leifer.

The evidence demonstrated that the plaintiff, as a consequence of Leifer's sexual abuse committed when the plaintiff was a student at the School, has suffered a major psychiatric illness. The impact of that illness on her life has been profound. The plaintiff will suffer the symptoms associated with her injury indefinitely.

Leifer exploited the plaintiff's vulnerability, significantly causing, contributing to and compounding the plaintiff's ongoing injury.

Further, Justice Rush found that the failure of the Board to report the allegations of sexual misconduct by Leifer towards a number of female students to police and its role in arranging Leifer's urgent departure is deplorable.

The conduct of the School is deserving of this Court's disapprobation and denunciation. Justice Rush had no doubt that the conduct was deliberate. The conduct amounts to disgraceful, contumelious behaviour demonstrating a complete disregard of Leifer's victims of which the plaintiff was one. The conduct demonstrates a disdain for due process of criminal investigation in this State.