Sisters fight darkness after Orthodox principal Malka Leifer’s abuse

Elly Sapper (left) and Dassi Erlich (right) spoke in court of their pain before Nicole Meyer (centre) spoke outside.

Elly Sapper (left) and Dassi Erlich (right) spoke in court of their pain before Nicole Meyer (centre) spoke outside. Photo: AAP

Sisters sexually abused by once-revered ultra-Orthodox Jewish principal Malka Leifer refuse to be swallowed by the darkness of what happened to them.

Elly Sapper yearned for love and Leifer was the first person to tell her she was loved.

Her sister Dassi Erlich recalls the moment Leifer told her she loved her like a mother.

It wasn’t genuine love but a manipulation that led to years of sexual abuse and trauma.

“Faced with the painful truth that her love wasn’t real was a betrayal of such magnitude it left me broken,” Ms Sapper told Leifer at a pre-sentence hearing in the Victorian County Court on Wednesday.

Leifer, the former principal and head of religion at the Adass Israel School, was convicted in April of sexually abusing Ms Sapper and Ms Erlich when they were students between 2003 and 2007.

A jury of six men and six women found her guilty of 18 charges including rape, indecent assault and sexual penetration of a child aged 16 or 17.

The 56-year-old mother of eight was acquitted of nine charges, including five against the siblings’ older sister Nicole Meyer.

Leifer, who fled to Israel when allegations were raised in 2014 and was extradited back to Australia in 2020, appeared by videolink from prison.

Ms Sapper struggled to quantify the impact of the abuse but said she refused to let the broken fragments of herself define her entirely.

She was pregnant when she gave evidence during Leifer’s weeks-long trial and described her daughter as the light in the darkness after years of trying to get pregnant and many pregnancy losses.

She knew she needed to be strong because she carried a future life.

“Six days before the verdict we lost our little girl – her heart stopped beating,” she said.

Without concrete answers as to why she’ll never know if the stress, anxiety and trauma contributed.

Her husband Daniel Lichter said he was in awe of of her strength and courage, and the exhaustion she experiences trying to overcome nightmares and panic attacks.

“In these moments I cannot touch or hold her because it worsens her experience,” he said.

“I can only provide a safe space and watch her painfully navigate her way through and accept that the hug she desires has been turned into an instrument of torture.”

Ms Erlich believed Leifer was a source of safety but instead was subjected to insidious abuse that fractured her trust forever.

She believed Leifer takes pride in knowing she irreversibly altered her existence and saw no signs of remorse in Wednesday’s hearing.

Ms Erlich told Leifer her darkness would not define her.

“Instead I choose to focus on the light,” she said.

“I am resilient, I am powerful and I am so much more than the limitations you chose to impose on me.”

Ms Meyer was unable to speak inside court because of the not guilty verdicts but outside said the trauma did not simply vanish because of the jury’s findings.

“I stand here today not just for myself but to speak for the countless survivors who endure this battle silently, their voices silenced by a legal system that often falls short of delivering justice,” she said.

Leifer’s barrister Ian Hill KC said his client was once a respected educator, administrator and community leader but is now lonely, isolated and broken.

“Publicly she has been disgraced,” he said.

“It can be said, fairly, that she is suffering worldwide opprobrium as a result of the publicity this trial seems to have affected.”

Leifer, whose husband, children and grandchildren are all overseas, is expected to serve the full amount of any sentence she receives before being deported, the court heard.

Judge Mark Gamble noted Leifer has no interest in remaining in Australia.

The hearing continues on Thursday.

1800 RESPECT (1800 737 732)

National Sexual Abuse and Redress Support Service 1800 211 028


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