How Telephonic Interpreting is Helping Victims of Abuse


Telephonic interpreting is helping non-English victims of abuse and violence be heard and get help more easily.

The statistics on abuse are shocking: about 1 in 4 women experiences domestic violence at some point during her life, and other crimes like sex trafficking are all too common as well. When a victim of abuse has to tell and retell their story, it is a traumatic experience. They have to relive their stories over and over again, stories that bring back bad memories and often stir up intense fear and shame. It’s a difficult task for victims to cope with, even when they’re communicating in their own language. It becomes even more difficult when no one around them speaks their language. For victims of abuse with Limited English Proficiency (LEP), difficulty communicating can even interfere with their willingness to give all the details of the abuse to law enforcement. In these situations, telephonic interpretation can make the language barrier more manageable, and help victims of abuse tell their stories—and receive the help and justice they need and deserve.

Life and Death Consequences

Giving victims a voice isn’t just a matter of seeking justice for past crimes. Communication can be a matter of life and death, as the tragic death of Guatemalan immigrant Deisy Garcia and her two young daughters in 2014 illustrates so painfully. After calling 911 about the physical abuse and threats she had been receiving from her husband, Garcia filed a police report with the NYPD in Spanish, her native language.

The report went untranslated, and Garcia’s husband suffered no consequences.

Months later, he returned to the home, stabbing his wife and his two daughters to death. The NYPD, which boasted a force of officers with a fairly high rate of foreign language proficiency, failed to act on the original report, and three lives were lost.

Other victims have survived horrific conditions in the sex trafficking industry, but are unable to speak up and help law enforcement catch their abusers due to the language barrier. After their escape, they face yet another hurdle: being understood. Unsurprisingly, many victims are unwilling to give more details without an interpreter, since reliving their pain seems futile when no one understands them.

How Telephonic Interpretation is Changing Outcomes

These incidents show just how far we have to go before victims are given the voice and protections they deserve. The good news is that telephonic interpretation is bridging the gap between law enforcement and LEP victims, resulting in a less traumatic experience for those who have already suffered so much. It’s not only the right thing to do, it’s a requirement to provide access to LEP victims.

Telephonic interpretation is an ideal solution for obtaining statements from victims, because it’s easy and inexpensive to use. Dialing into the service allows officials to be connected to an interpreter 24/7/365 in the required language. Once connected, the victim can provide the information they have without having to repeat themselves multiple times and reliving the pain and embarrassment over and over again. Speaking in their native language often prompts a more detailed statement than they would have given otherwise and helps put some victims at ease a bit during a difficult situation.

Telephonic interpretation is perfect for law enforcement as well as caregivers and crisis centers, because it’s on-demand and doesn’t carry the same costs or logistical difficulties as an in-person interpreter. Only the minutes used are paid for, and the service is usually a reasonable charge per minute. Access to language services on demand is changing outcomes for victims nationwide.

Why Bilingual Isn’t Enough

As the story of Deisy Garcia shows, having bilingual law enforcement teams simply isn’t enough to ensure that all victims have a voice. It’s important that victims who need it have access to a telephonic interpretation service to tell their story. These systems are efficient, cost-effective, and have interpreters who are trained to give LEP individuals a voice. They’re much more reliable than the efforts of a bilingual officer, and they could mean the difference between life and death. As the United States continues to see a larger population of LEP individuals, it’s crucial that we give a voice to victims of abuse so their attackers can be put to justice.

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