New York -- An Israeli-Australian dual citizen wanted for allegedly sexually abusing several teenaged girls was arrested and is slated to be extradited to Australia.
Malka Leifer, an ultra-orthodox woman living in Emmanuel, was the principal of the Adas school in Melbourne between 2001 and 2008. She stands accused of engaging in sexual behavior with a number of students, including three sisters. She left Australia after being fired by a local school board.
“Ms Leifer is wanted to face prosecution in Victoria for alleged sexual assault offenses,” The Age quoted a spokesperson for the Australian Attorney General.
The arrest is the result of legal action initiated by a victim seeking compensation from Leifer, resulting in an extradition request filed in a Jerusalem district court by the Israeli AG’s international department.
The parents of one student told the Australian newspaper on condition of anonymity that communal norms militate against disclosure.
“It’s very sensitive, because a girl who has been molested would find it hard to get married, so it’s very secret, hush-hush - no one wants to admit their child is a victim,” the parent was quoted as saying.
Also speaking with The Age, Manny Waks of the Tzedek victims’ rights advocacy organization said that the arrest and impending extradition “should be seen in the greater context of the ongoing child sexual abuse scandal that has been plaguing the Australian Jewish community in recent years where we have seen numerous convictions in both Melbourne and Sydney.”
Waks also asserted that that the facts of the case serve as “further evidence that the tide is turning within our community; many victims are no longer willing to remain silent, and neither is the community.”
Waks is a controversial figure in an ultra-orthodox community in which there are significant cultural barriers to coming forward to report abuse, especially to secular authorities.
There is a “a deep set culture of non-reporting and cover-up” within certain Jewish communities, David Morris, who runs a similar organization to Waks’ in Israel, told the Jerusalem Post last year.
Cultural biases against turning to non-Jewish authorities, strict religious rules against gossiping and a desire to avoid causing a chillul Hashem, or a desecration of God’s name, all serve to damper any impetus to report abuse.
The social ostracism and resultant harm to marriage prospects further serve to create a culture in which abuse goes unreported.
Morris agreed with Waks, however, in stating that better education on issues of abuse has served to initiate important changes within ultra-orthodoxy, although there is much that remains to be done.
Two months ago the Age reported that Australian police are currently investigating several rabbis for allegedly covering up sexual abuse in community yeshivot in an ongoing scandal that has plagued the community for several years.
The newspaper reported that it had obtained recordings and testimony that indicated that senior rabbinic figures in the Chabad hassidic community in the Sydney area knew of allegations of sexual abuse against children and did not report them to the relevant authorities.
Speaking to the Post in June, Rabbi Dovid Freilich, the former head of the Organization of Rabbis of Australasia (ORA), said that “we as a rabbinate should, unlike the catholic church, come right out and condemn [abuse] in the strongest terms [and] condemn those people who even covered it up.”
“I believe that the people who covered it up, rabbis or no rabbis, are just as culpable and also should face criminal proceedings because like in any crime if you hide the perpetrator and enable the perpetrator to do even more and continue on with the crime, you are just as guilty,” he said.
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