A SUPREME Court of Victoria judge this week awarded more than $1.2 million in damages against Adass Israel School and its former head mistress Malka Leifer over the sexual abuse of a student.
Justice Jack Rush condemned Leifer, who is challenging extradition proceedings in Israel to face a criminal trial in Melbourne, as “evil” and “wanton”, and said the school acted “in complete disregard of Leifer’s victims” when a committee arranged Leifer’s hasty departure from Melbourne to Israel in 2008.
He concluded the relationship between Leifer and her students “was invested with a high degree of power and intimacy and Leifer used that power and intimacy to conduct sexual abuse”.
The judge rejected the school’s argument that it was not liable for Leifer and its claim that she was actually employed by the Adass Israel congregation, saying that if that were true, the school would be in breach of assurances it had given the Immigration Department about bringing Leifer in from Israel. Leifer “held a preeminent position of power” in the school, he concluded.
The plaintiff’s sexual abuse, including penetration, began in year 10 when she was 15, and occurred at a school camp, at Leifer’s home and at the school itself. It left the plaintiff scarred for life, with depression and suicidal tendencies. He said the plaintiff in her evidence had shown “stoicism but also great vulnerability”.
Justice Rush said the evidence “demonstrates a manipulative approach by Leifer in her dealings with the plaintiff. Leifer would gain permission from the plaintiff’s mother for the plaintiff to attend school camps and she would take the plaintiff out of class to talk about the plaintiff’s home issues.
“When the plaintiff was in Year 10, Leifer organised, both at school and at Leifer’s home, for her to undertake special one on one lessons in Jewish values and Jewish morals. The plaintiff stated she came from a home where she did not feel worthy, and that the attention from Leifer made her feel very special, privileged. The plaintiff viewed Leifer as someone that was completely trustworthy.”
In a slate of damages, Justice Rush awarded the plaintiff $300,000 for economic loss, more than $50,000 for past economic loss, more than $501,000 for future economic loss, more than $156,000 for present medical expenses, more than $16,000 for future medical expenses, and $150,000 in exemplary damages against Leifer and $100,000 against the school as a “deterrent” to other teachers and schools.
Adass is currently considering whether to appeal the judgment.