In 2008 the management of the Adass Israel School (AIS) in Melbourne, Australia learned its principal, Mrs. Malka Leifer, was sexually abusing teen girls including manually penetrating them. Fearful of the police, they convened a group including Rabbi Zvi Telsner of the Chabad Yeshivah Centre and decided to cover up the crimes and whisk Mrs. Leifer out of Australia. Within days, they paid some $ (AU) 8,000 to ship her and her family off to Israel. There she remains, fighting off Australia’s request to extradite her to face criminal charges.
While the extradition demand wound its way through the Israeli courts, a victim sued AIS. Just after Rosh Hashanah the court awarded the victim $(AU) 1,024,428 ($US 734,310 ). This includes “exemplary damages” (aka punitive damages) of $(AU) 100,000.
Expensive judgments are the looming nightmare of institutions that cover up sex abuse, as well they should be. By rights they should have prevented or stopped abuse. When they fired an abuser they should have made sure s/he did not move on to another job. They should have protected other children by reporting an abuser to the authorities.
But AIS failed to do a cheshbon hanefesh (soul searching ) when the abuse came to their attention. Perhaps the financial reckoning will be a sobering wake up call to them and other yeshivas in Melbourne.
This happened in Melbourne where victims have quite a bit of time to sue. But New York State, because of the coordinated lobbying of Agudath Israel of America and the Catholic Church, has one of the four most restrictive Statutes of Limitations (SOL) in the US.
Rabbi Dovid Zwiebel and Rabbi Yaakov Horowitz argued against the Markey Bill to extend the SOL because it would bankrupt yeshivas and camps. They took this position even though Jewish law has no SOLs according to Rabbi Shmuel Kaminetsky.
In NYS, a child victim of sexual abuse other than felony rape, must file criminal or civil claims before they turn 23. Most child sex abuse does not consist of felony rape and most people who were sexually abused while they were children take decades before they reveal their abuse to anyone. NYS’s short SOL effectively gives most institutions and abusers a free pass from ever being held accountable.
Rabbis Zwiebel and Horowitz claim they are focused on preventing future abuse. But the fact is that most abuse in Haredi world is still covered up and many of its leaders are complicit in concealing abuse and protecting offenders. An extended SOL would motivate yeshivas and camps to do a much better job of rooting out child molesting
A day of reckoning is overdue. When yeshivas have to pay the bill, they will start reckoning with abuse before the lawsuit summons. This is what they should in any event do as good Jews before the Yom Hadin, the Day of Judgment.
UPDATE 9/17/15: Another victim of Malka Leifer is also preparing to file suit. In addition to these two, there are six other victims identified by the police and conceded as such by the school.
UPDATE 9/17/15: Partial Text of the Australian Court Ruling:
Judgment awarded against Malka Leifer and Adass Israel School
The Supreme Court today awarded more than $1.27 million in damages and compensation to a woman sexually abused by the headmistress of the Adass Israel School, Mrs Malka Leifer, between 2003 and 2006.
Evidence was given that the plaintiff was brought up in a home with no access to television, radio, internet, magazines or newspapers. Not even a sales catalogue entered the home. Children did not grow up knowing of world events; children were completely isolated from anything ‘beyond the community you were within’, the community adhering to an exceptionally rigid, strict code of behaviour.
The School was in every sense a religious school. Its philosophies and policies were sourced in the traditions and values of Ultra Orthodox Judaism. The School maintains strict adherence to those philosophies.
The evidence demonstrated that Leifer was the most powerful and preeminent figure within the girls’ campus of the School.
The plaintiff viewed Leifer as someone that was completely trustworthy. It is within this setting that the sexual molestation of the plaintiff by Leifer commenced
That the plaintiff’s upbringing had been so closed and restricted meant she was extraordinarily vulnerable to a person such as Leifer.
That the sexual abuse occurred under the guise of Jewish education by the headmistress of the School and the person in charge of Jewish studies makes the breach of trust associated with the abuse monstrous.
Leifer’s control and authority within the girls’ campus of the School was unrestrained and unrestricted. In that sense, Justice Rush found that her misconduct was the misconduct of the School and that therefore the School is directly liable for her conduct.
Justice Rush also concluded that the School is vicariously liable for the sexual abuse committed by Leifer.
The evidence demonstrated that the plaintiff, as a consequence of Leifer’s sexual abuse committed when the plaintiff was a student at the School, has suffered a major psychiatric illness. The impact of that illness on her life has been profound. The plaintiff will suffer the symptoms associated with her injury indefinitely.
Leifer exploited the plaintiff’s vulnerability, significantly causing, contributing to and compounding the plaintiff’s ongoing injury.
Further, Justice Rush found that the failure of the Board to report the allegations of sexual misconduct by Leifer towards a number of female students to police and its role in arranging Leifer’s urgent departure is deplorable.
The conduct of the School is deserving of this Court’s disapprobation and denunciation. Justice Rush had no doubt that the conduct was deliberate. The conduct amounts to disgraceful, contumelious behaviour demonstrating a complete disregard of Leifer’s victims of which the plaintiff was one. The conduct demonstrates a disdain for due process of criminal investigation in this State.