The trial of Malka Leifer, a former Jewish school principal accused of rape, began in Australia on Tuesday.
The trial began in the County Court of Victoria and sees Leifer accused of 29 charges of rape and sexual assault of three sisters, two of them while still being minors and in one of the sisters’ cases, as an adult. Leifer pleaded not guilty to all charges.
The first day of the trial saw opening statements made by Crown Prosecutor Justin Lewis and Leifer’s defense attorney Ian Hill. The opening statements are meant to outline for the jury the arguments that will be made by each side in the trial and provide a roadmap for how they will substantiate their claims.
What is the prosecution arguing?
In Lewis’ opening statement, he told the jury that he would show how Leifer allegedly raped and sexually abused the three sisters while they were attending the ultra-orthodox Adass Israel school in Melbourne while she was a teacher and principal at the school. He added that the abuse of the oldest sister Nicole Meyer continued after she graduated and when she began teaching at the school herself.
Lewis said that the prosecution would show that the sisters could not have consented to anything of the alleged sexual acts carried out on them because they didn’t understand what was happening to them as they were raised in an ultra-orthodox community where women are only taught about sex in the leadup to their wedding.
“The three complainants did not have any knowledge or understanding of sex during the period of the alleged offending,” he said.
The prosecutor then detailed a series of occasions in which Leifer allegedly sexually assaulted and raped each sister at school, at her home and during school camps. According to the statement, one of the sisters froze when almost all alleged assaults happened while another sister told Leifer to stop on almost every occasion. In those cases, Lewis said that Leifer “would either not respond or say ‘this is good for you’.”
Lewis said that Leifer used the sisters’ difficult home life to get close to them by offering support and telling them they could trust her.
What is the defense’s argument?
In his opening statement, Hill argued to the court that the three sisters were not credible as their accounts continued to change over the years and accused the sisters of colluding with each other when making statements. He also said that he would prove that the sisters did have knowledge of sexual matters and knew what was happening, meaning they could consent.
The trial is being held before Judge Mark Gamble and has been expected to last for 30 days.
Leifer fled to Israel after the accusations originally emerged in 2008. She tried avoiding court dates in Israel to decide if she would be extradited by claiming mental illness. Her extradition was finally extradited back to Australia two years ago.