How three sisters overcame threats and silence to get justice against Malka Leifer

Just a few months before her death, Dalia Stone was approached by two men and instructed to tell her sisters to stop their quest for justice against Malka Leifer.

The men were keen to deliver the message that if her younger sisters, Nicole Meyer, Dassi Erlich and Elly Sapper, continued to press the case against their former school principal, it would have an impact on their family.

Dalia was a world away from Melbourne and the tiny religious community in the inner south-east where the abuse occurred. And she was far from Israel, where Leifer was hiding.

“A few men approached her,” Elly recalled the day after Leifer was found guilty of 18 counts of sexual abuse against her and sister Dassi. “They were sent from Israel to harass her and tell her that her family would be affected if she did not tell us to shut down the story.”

Dalia called the sisters and told them it didn’t matter. She would move countries, take children out of schools, whatever it took to stand by them.

Nicole Meyer and Elly Sapper look through photo albums from their childhood.Credit:SImon Schluter

“I know,” said Elly, pausing and looking at Nicole, “we know, that she would be looking down on us and be so proud of us for where we are. And she would have been here in court and she would have been there every day or wherever she could supporting us and cheering us on.”

After a six-week trial in the County Court of Victoria, a jury on Monday found Leifer, 56, guilty of charges including rape, indecent assault and sexual penetration of a child aged 16 or 17 against Elly and Dassi, but cleared her of all charges relating to Nicole.

Dalia is one of the many people who helped the women through their 15-year saga seeking justice.

The explicit threat to Dalia was delivered implicitly again and again to the sisters, in the form of silence. For years, they battled the inertia and resistance of a community that prefers to manage allegations of abuse internally.

“Sometimes, silence speaks such disapproval that you don’t even need words,” Nicole said. “Silence is difficult. So even if people don’t outright come up and say, don’t do it, silence speaks louder than anything.”

Monday’s verdict was particularly tough for Nicole, whose allegations did not produce a conviction.

‘It’s my story, so I know my truth, and I’m holding onto that.’

“I’ve tried to prepare myself mentally that that may happen, but it was heartbreaking,” she said. “It was just hearing ‘not guilty’. I think those words will echo five times in my mind for the rest of my life.

“It’s my story, so I know my truth, and I’m holding onto that.”

Elly Sapper, Nicole Meyer and Dassi Erlich speak outside the County Court following Monday’s verdict.Credit:Simon Schluter

Elly empathises with her sister. She said the moment the not guilty verdicts came through, her heart sank, knowing the task they all have ahead of healing the wounds inflicted repeatedly over the past decade.

“To have a guilty verdict on our charges and not Nicole’s just feels so unjust and so unfair … we know our story, we know our truth,” she said.

“There’s a lot of mixed emotions because there is this sense of victory, but there’s also the sense of injustice, and those two emotions are just trying to reconcile at the moment.”

Leifer will next face court on April 26.

If you need support, call the National Sexual Assault, Domestic and Family Violence Counselling Service on 1800RESPECT (1800 737 732).

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