The mother of three women who allegedly suffered sexual abuse at the hands of their ultra-Orthodox school principal told police she did not want to participate in their investigation, a court has been told.
Malka Leifer, 56, is standing trial in the Victorian County Court on allegations she sexually abused three sisters – Nicole Meyer, Dassi Erlich and Elly Sapper – between 2003 and 2007.
Ms Leifer has pleaded not guilty to 29 charges, including 10 of rape, with her lawyer saying the jury will have to judge whether the allegations are “delusions” brought on by their “apparently abusive home lives”.
“Ms Leifer denies all the criminal conduct alleged by each complainant,” Ian Hill KC said in his opening remarks.
“She had a proper and professional interaction with them as students.”
Malka Leifer denies allegations she sexually abused three sisters. Picture: NCA NewsWire / Paul Tyquin
On Monday, Detective Sergeant Danielle Newton, who led the investigation, was called to give evidence as the final witness for the prosecution.
She told the court she was first contacted about the allegations on May 20, 2011, when one of the sisters filed a complaint at the St Kilda police station.
Over the following decade, she interviewed the three sisters a number of times and contacted multiple people from the Adass Israel community, some of whom declined to participate in the investigation.
Sergeant Newton said she contacted Mrs Sapper, the three women’s mother, in 2021 but she refused to provide a statement.
“I called her up and explained my role and what it was I was investigating,” she said.
“She declined to participate.
“I did explain that if she changed her mind to call me and left my details … she didn’t.”
The court was told Mrs Sapper was actively involved in the Adass Israel school community and was one of the “main drivers” who would chauffeur Ms Leifer around, as she didn’t have a car or licence.
Earlier in the trial, prosecutor Justin Lewis told the jury that Ms Leifer’s three alleged victims grew up living “sheltered” lives with little interaction with the wider Melbourne community.
They suffered, he alleged, physical and verbal abuse growing up from their mother.
Ms Leifer, an Israeli citizen, was brought over to work at the Adass Israel school in 2001. Picture: Supplied
It’s alleged Ms Leifer, then principal at the ultra-Orthodox Adass Israel Jewish School, took advantage of the three girls’ vulnerability and strict cultural upbringing.
As a result of this, Mr Lewis alleged they had no understanding of sex or what Ms Leifer was allegedly doing to them and, at the time, thought of her as a substitute mother figure.
Mr Hill has argued the sisters are unreliable and had changed their recollections multiple times since a complaint was first made to police in 2011.
The sisters, who are separated in age by four years, allege the offences occurred while they were in their final years at the school and while they worked as junior religious studies teachers after graduating.
The trial, before Judge Mark Gamble, continues.