When Leah was about 12, her mother fell ill and couldn’t care for her. Jewish Welfare stepped in to help, organising for Leah to spend her weekdays and some weekends at various homes in the community.
Several years passed this way. Then, by her mid-teens, Leah proved to be such an independent and capable girl that she was allowed to work and live on her own. Still, she remained close with the other, younger girls who lived at the homes, and continued to visit them.
At this stage the younger girls were living in a home run by Mr and Mrs Siegel. Leah dropped round for a visit one time when she was about 17, and as she was giving her goodbye hugs and kisses at the door, Siegel touched her inappropriately. Leah said she was ‘a bit shocked at first’ and felt ‘a bit ashamed’ so didn’t mention the incident to anyone.
Siegel did the same thing again a while later. This time Leah mentioned it to her fiancé. He spoke to Siegel and the inappropriate touching stopped for a few months, then Siegel did it again. Leah’s now-husband threatened to take Siegel to the police. After that, Siegel never touched Leah again. Leah and her husband put the whole thing behind them and got on with their lives.
She told the Commissioner:
‘At the time it never occurred to me, or my husband for that matter, that Mr Siegel was doing this or worse to the other girls.’
Leah later found out from the other girls that they had been abused too, so she approached Jewish Welfare, now known as Jewish Care. They told her about a redress scheme offering payments of $25,000. Leah said she is suspicious of the scheme and not interested in compensation for herself, but would like to see the other girls take it up.
‘I’m sure the 25,000 is shut-up money, but they could do with it, they’re as poor as church mice.’
However, the girls are unwilling to come forward. She said some of the girls won’t speak to her because they blame her for the abuse.
‘They hold me responsible for not looking after them … for not doing anything about these heinous crimes. But they never told me their stories, when they were so young. How could I have known?’
Leah holds Jewish Welfare morally responsible for what happened and wants it held to account.
‘I’m not frightened of standing up. I get emotional … I start off a bit slow but then I get really angry, and get stronger and stronger.’