Social worker advised not to give statement on Malka Leifer, court hears

A social worker has told a court she was advised against making a statement to police about former school principal and accused child abuser Malka Leifer in case she was later sued.

© Associated Press Ms Leifer is accused of sexually abusing three of her students between 2004 and 2008.

Social worker Chana Rabinowitz appeared via video link from Israel on Monday in the Melbourne Magistrates Court, where a committal hearing is determining if Ms Leifer, the former principal of Adass Israel School in Elsternwick, will stand trial.

Ms Leifer is accused of sexually abusing three of her students between 2004 and 2008. The 55-year-old faces 74 charges comprising 11 of rape, 47 of indecent assault, three of sexual penetration of a child and 13 of committing an indecent act with a child.

The complainants – sisters Elly Sapper, Dassi Erlich and Nicole Meyer – have been granted a court order that allows them to publicly identify themselves.

The last of the three sisters finished giving evidence on Monday morning. The first gave her evidence over Monday and Tuesday last week, and the second accuser was questioned over three days before finishing her evidence on Friday. All were questioned in a closed court.

Ms Leifer maintains she is innocent and will be asked to formally enter a plea at the end of the hearing. She appeared via video link from custody on Monday.

On Monday afternoon, the court heard social worker Ms Rabinowitz lived in Melbourne between 2001 and early 2006, when she worked for the Department of Education as well as some private clients from Jewish schools.

In 2001, Ms Rabinowitz was privately referred to the mother of the three complainants. She saw the woman’s son and in the last year of her stay in Melbourne saw one of the three sisters. At the same time, she was also working with Ms Leifer at the Adass Israel School.

She moved back to Jerusalem in 2006, where she worked with another of the complainants for several months in 2007.

In November 2011, Ms Rabinowitz was contacted by a police officer from Victoria who asked if she would be willing to make a statement. The court was read part of Ms Rabinowitz’s email reply to the officer, in which she said she had been told two of the complainants had been trying to access a grant for victims of sexual assault.

“I’m not sure I want to go on record testifying,” she wrote on November 7, 2011. “I have been warned it is totally possible she can one day turn to me and decide to sue me too for speaking to the police. I guess I’m a bit suspect that when someone is in something for the possible pay-off then perhaps in the future they will think to get money from me as well if they could.”

In court on Thursday, Ms Rabinowitz said she could not remember who had told her the complainants were trying to access a victims-of-crime grant, but she confirmed she had been warned by her legal counsel not to go on the record because she could be pursued by the complainants for money in the future.

The court also heard Ms Rabinowitz wrote in a police statement in April this year that she had emails between her and one of the complainants that were “somewhat graphic and emotional” and were “full of her personal anguish”.

She said she had not been asked to provide those emails to police.

The hearing will resume on Thursday when five witnesses are due to give evidence, including Adass Israel teachers and a police investigator.

Ms Leifer left Australia for Israel in 2008 when allegations against her emerged. She was charged in 2012 and extradition hearings began in 2014, but she was not extradited to Australia until the start of this year.

With Adam Cooper

If you or anyone you know needs support, you can contact the National Sexual Assault, Domestic and Family Violence Counselling Service on 1800RESPECT (1800 737 732).

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