Legislation needed to improve interpreter services for domestic violence victims from non-English speaking

Women’s Safety NSW will seek legislative reform to improve interpreter services for victims and survivors of domestic or family violence, after a survey of frontline responders revealed language is a significant barrier in gaining safety and support.

Women’s Safety NSW CEO Hayley Foster said it is critical all victims and survivors from non-English speaking backgrounds are afforded access to specially trained Domestic and Family Violence interpreters when accessing support services, dealing with police and courts.

“The safety of victims and survivors depends on access to telephone interpreter services,” Ms Foster said.

Beth Roman, Domestic and Family Violence Multicultural Specialist for Illawarra Women’s Domestic Violence Court Advocacy Service says: “In too many cases these services are not being provided and even picking up the phone to try to seek help in some instances is difficult because the prompts are in English.”

A survey of 42 frontline domestic family violence workers found 100 per cent recommended it should be a requirement for police, courts and other government agencies to offer telephone interpreter services to people from non-English speaking backgrounds, through legislation.

“This would minimise the likelihood of victims and survivors being discouraged by agencies not to engage with telephone interpreter services and would also ensure they are able to use a professional service and not a family member or friend or someone in their community,” Ms Roman said.

The report also highlighted the need for a team of specifically trained domestic and family violence interpreters.

Ms Foster said training interpreters was vital for victims and the interpreters themselves when dealing with trauma and violence.

“Having access to quality interpreter services can make all the difference for vulnerable people when it comes to achieving safety, justice and wellbeing,” she said.

The recommendations are supported by Domestic Violence NSW, whose members also participated in the survey.

Says Delia Donovan, Interim CEO of Domestic Violence NSW: “It is essential for each and every stage of the response to domestic and family violence, from the police call-out, engaging support services and in court that victim-survivors have access to specialist interpreter services.”

Nevertheless, Foster highlights: “Multicultural domestic and family violence specialists report victims are not being systematically offered these essential services and when they are it is not safe, nor trauma informed for victims of violence.”

Women’s Safety NSW has shared this information with government and looks forward to working closely with them to deliver reform and thereby improve outcomes for domestic violence survivors across NSW.

“We believe that with the concerted effort of government and service deliverers, this can be achieved over the coming months. We hope to work with government to make this happen.”

The survey findings are consistent with the latest NSW Domestic Violence Death Review Team Report 2017 – 2019 which raised concerns surrounding the need to address the barriers facing culturally and linguistically diverse communities and ensuring availability of culturally inclusive supports and responses to domestic violence.

The survey revealed:

  • Almost all (78%) of those surveyed indicated that they were either ‘extremely’ (52%) or ‘very’ (26%) concerned that clients with little or no English are unable to access Telephone Interpreter Services on their own.
  • Only 10% of those surveyed stated these services are ‘extremely’ accessible.
  • A large proportion (43%) of participants indicated interpreter services for clients in their dealing with courts were ‘not very’ accessible, with another 38% finding them ‘moderately’ accessible and 17% stating that they are ‘very’ accessible.
  • 24% of participants indicated they find interpreter services ‘moderately’ trauma and violence informed and 50% of participants indicated they find interpreter services ‘not very’ trauma and violence informed, while no participants indicated they find interpreter services ‘extremely’ trauma and violence informed.

The Code of Practice for the NSW Police Force (NSWPF) Response to Domestic and Family Violence states that all NSWPF must use professional accredited interpreters to communicate with people who are not able to speak or understand English or who are Deaf or Hard of Hearing and in a domestic violence incident police must use an accredited interpreter when obtaining a Domestic Violence Evidence in Chief (DVEC) recording or a written statement from the victim.

Ms Foster said despite this standard there are reports of interpreters failing to turn up or the system fails to book them.

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