Three sisters allegedly abused by their school principal were “conditioned” from a very young age to not question authority, a court has been told.
On Wednesday, prosecutor Justin Lewis began delivering his final address in the trial of Malka Leifer, saying the jury had heard “ample evidence” to convict her.
Ms Leifer, 56, is standing trial on 27 charges including rape, indecent assault and sexual penetration of a child aged 16 or 17.
The mother-of-eight has pleaded not guilty, with her barrister, Ian Hill KC, saying she maintained she had “proper and professional interactions” with the women.
Ms Leifer has been standing trial in the County Court of Victoria after Nicole Meyer, Dassi Erlich and Elly Sapper accused her of abusing them between 2003 and 2007.
The abuse, they allege, began when the sisters, who are separated in age by four years, were in their final years at the Adass Israel School and continued after they were employed as junior religious teachers.
Ms Leifer sat clutching a white and gold prayer book during the trial. Picture: NCA NewsWire / Paul Tyquin
Over a five-week period, the jury heard testimony from more than a dozen witnesses, including the three sisters, staff at Adass Israel, police investigators, psychologists and psychiatrists.
The bulk of the testimony came from the three sisters, who for two weeks gave their evidence in chief and were cross-examined in a closed court.
Delivering his final remarks, Mr Lewis said the case relied “heavily” on their testimony.
“It’s common in these sorts of cases where abuse tends to take place behind closed doors and away from the prying eyes of bystanders and potential witnesses,” he said.
But Mr Hill said from the beginning of the trial the sisters’ “credibility and reliability” would be a critical issue for the jury to decide.
He said the allegations against Ms Leifer had “evolved over time” and that the jury would have to decide whether these claims were in fact “delusions” brought on by their abusive home lives.
In response, Mr Lewis said some of these allegations are said to have taken place more than 20 years ago, and called on the jury to apply its understanding of memory.
“Memory is not looking at a video recording … there’s nothing unusual about that, it’s a function of being human,” he said.
The prosecution has alleged Ms Leifer had a ‘tendency’ to have a sexual interest in girls when they were teenage students at the school. Picture: Supplied.
“It’s not surprising considering the nature of the things Nechama (Nicole Meyer) has told you.
“The fact she feels traumatised and struggles talking about it now is entirely in line with what you’ve heard.”
Throughout the trial, Ms Leifer has sat clutching a white and gold prayer book and was supported by family members, including a sister who had flown to Melbourne to be by her side.
The jury heard the three complainants had grown up living “sheltered” lives within the ultra-orthodox Jewish community, with no access to television, the internet or sex education.
The prosecution had alleged Ms Leifer took advantage of their vulnerability, orchestrating “private education” sessions where she sexually abused them.
Mr Lewis said the girls were “conditioned” by their upbringing to not question authority and Ms Leifer allegedly took “advantage” of this.
“The accused, a member of the same community and an educator, it’s inconceivable that she could not have known,” he said.
It was alleged these occurred at locations including the offices at the school, at Ms Leifer’s Elsternwick home and on school camps.
Ms Leifer was brought over to teach at the Adass Israel School in Elsternwick in 2001. Picture: Ian Currie
Mr Lewis said he expected Mr Hill to call on the jury in his closing remarks to reject the allegations because the sisters’ stories had changed over time.
Instead, he said, they should view this as the women doing their “level best” to remember incidents which allegedly occurred many years ago.
“The level of detail they were asked about went beyond what you would expect a person to remember,” he said.
“I suggest their credibility is enhanced when they gave a number of answers that reflected well on the accused.
“Not everything they said about her was damning.”
Mr Lewis will continue his closing address on Thursday, followed by Mr Hill.
Earlier in the trial, Judge John Gamble said he “suspected” it will be mid next week before he asks the jury to retire to reach a verdict.
The trial continues.