Sakhi Convenes Focus Group

by Farzana Rahman, Communications Intern

Purvi Shah, Executive Director of Sakhi for South Asian Women, and Kajori Chaudhuri, a Domestic Violence Program Advocate, attended the National Association of Judiciary Interpreters and Translators conference where they presented on advocacy and vicarious trauma as related to court interpreters. During the conference, Sakhi met with approximately 40 court interpreters who shared their viewpoints on the problems in the court interpreters system and how to enable best practices.

Prior to 2007, there was no firm New York State court mandate that provided court interpreters to court users who possessed limited English proficiency. In 2007, Sakhi’s advocacy enabled the passage of Rule 217, which provided guidelines on providing court interpreters for court users who have limited English proficiency.

Policy Intern Meena Jagannath, who analyzed the audio recordings of the focus group session, said that court interpreters observed that the lack of and limited training they received through the courts was a hindrance to their job. They also felt that they needed more education on handling more sensitive topics such as domestic violence, sexual assault, child abuse as well as better language and terminology for areas such as anatomy/physiology. Interpreters also emphasized the need to be trained on the correct contextual vocabulary with respect to family, immigration, and immigration courts.

“Another issue interpreters face is vicarious trauma, or the trauma interpreters experience second-hand after hearing the stories of court users. Often, the interpreters have no outlet to address their emotional and psychological responses,” Meena noted. In the focus group, court interpreters suggested that in order to alleviate this problem court interpreters should form support groups. In these support groups they would have an arena to share their coping skills as well as share techniques that can make them more effective interpreters.

In addition to further training, court interpreters felt that judges and attorneys should receive training as well, as often times they cannot properly understand the role of the interpreter and therefore cannot utilize them in an efficient manner. According to the focus group, the interpreters often felt that judges or attorneys speak too quickly and pause too infrequently while speaking, making interpretation more difficult.

Exhaustion is another issue interpreters face. According to the focus group, judges and attorneys tend to want trials to go by quickly, but the interpreter’s job is tiring and requires breaks. Exhaustion directly affects interpretation because the words may not come as quickly or accurately when exhausted.

It is important for interpreters to convey all the details of court users to the court because something lost in translation could mean life-altering consequences.

“The court is an intimidating place especially for those who have limited English proficiency. For survivors of violence to access justice and appropriate remedies, it is critical to have interpreters who can effectively and accurately translate their stories to the court, and thus help the court make proper decisions,” Purvi observed.