An Israeli social worker whose complaint allegedly exposed a principal accused of sex abuse was warned against making a police statement, a court has heard.
Video testimony of Chana Rabinowitz was played during the trial of former Adass Israel school principal Malka Leifer before the County Court of Victoria on Thursday.
Ms Leifer, 56, stands accused of sexually abusing three sisters while principal of the ultra-orthodox school between 2003 and 2007.
She has pleaded not guilty to 29 charges, including rape, sexual penetration of a child aged 16 or 17, indecent assault and indecent acts.
The sisters, Nicole Meyer, Dassi Erlich and Elly Sapper, have each given NCA NewsWire permission to be named.
Under cross examination from defence barrister Ian Hill KC, Ms Rabinowitz confirmed she was first approached by detectives in 2011 to make a statement, but refused.
She agreed that she didn’t want to go on the record at the time because she’d received legal advice that she might be sued by Ms Erlich.
“I didn’t think of that issue; I was told that issue because I never do anything without talking to a lawyer,” she told the jury.
“The lawyer told that to me.”
The court heard Ms Rabinowitz, an Israel-based social worker who had previously lived in Melbourne, began seeing Ms Erlich in mid-2007 because she was finding it difficult to adjust to living in Israel and married life.
She confirmed she had, for a time, been contracted by the Adass Israel school to provide counselling to students and families.
Ms Rabinowitz said that during a “particularly emotional” session in early 2018, Ms Erlich told her she had allegedly been sexually abused by her school principal.
“I finally had a deeper sense of what might have been going on for her,” she would later tell police in 2021.
“I remember vividly asking her who hurt her … she whispered to me it was Ms Leifer.”
Ms Rabinowitz told the jury she remembered Ms Erlich being “very distraught” during the session.
“She was hunched over into herself and she could only whisper what it was,” she said.
“She told me she had been (allegedly) hurt sexually by Malka Leifer. She described some of what happened.”
The court previously heard Ms Leifer left the school in March 2008 after Ms Rabinowitz contacted the Adass Israel school administration about what she had been told.
On Tuesday, Esther Speigleman, the former head of general studies at Adass Israel School, told the jury she had spoken to Ms Leifer two days after she was stood down by the school board.
She said Ms Leifer told her she felt what was happening was “unfair” and said “I did nothing wrong”.
Earlier in the trial, Mr Hill said his client denied she had committed the alleged offences, saying she had “proper and professional interaction with them as students”.
He told the jury they will have to decide whether the women are telling the truth and whether their allegations are “delusions” brought on by trauma from their “apparently abusive home lives”.
Prosecutors have alleged the evidence will prove Ms Leifer had a “tendency” to be sexually attracted to young girls, taking advantage of their “vulnerability and her position of authority”.
When the girls were in their final years at school and after graduating and returning as “student teachers”, it’s alleged Ms Leifer would sexually abuse the girls at school, on school trips or during “private education” sessions.
Prosecutor Justin Lewis said the girls were “naive” about sex and Ms Leifer explained the abuse as “help” for their wedding night.
The trial, before Judge Mark Gamble, continues.
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