New Initiatives Will Reduce Language Barriers to Victim Services

New York, NY—The Vera Institute of Justice today announced two new initiatives to increase access to critical victim services for underserved survivors, including Deaf people and those with limited English proficiency.

Too many victims of crime are routinely denied access to support and services that they are legally obligated to receive, because service providers are not aware of these requirements or do not understand how to provide language access. While there are federal laws mandating that social services be language accessible, significant gaps in practice impose language barriers on millions of Deaf, hard of hearing, and limited English proficient Americans seeking victim services. A 2010 survey of Latina immigrants in southern California who had experienced domestic violence found that more than one in five respondents believed that language barriers were the main challenge to seeking help or receiving assistance, including from police.

Vera’s Translating Justice Initiative will provide training for crime victim service providers—as well as allied professionals such as police officers, prosecutors, and court administrators—to improve language access for Deaf, hard of hearing, and limited English proficient victims. The three-year initiative will publish a new online language access resource center, conduct in-person and virtual trainings at conferences and meetings of victim service providers and allied professionals, and conduct one-on-one targeted assistance to support service providers as they improve their ability to communicate with and serve all crime victims. Supported by a grant from the U.S. Department of Justice, Office of Victims of Crime (OVC), Vera’s partners in the initiative include the Asian Pacific Institute on Gender-Based Violence, the National Latin@ Network of Casa de Esperanza, Advocacy Services for Abused Deaf Victims, and the National Center for Victims of Crime.

"Too often, language barriers, cultural intolerance, and social isolation prevent victims from seeking and receiving help," said OVC Director Joye Frost. "We want to equip service providers with tools to effectively and clearly communicate with Deaf, hard of hearing, and limited English proficient individuals and ensure that they are able to offer victims a full range of services and support."

In addition to helping crime victim service providers improve their language accessibility overall, it is also essential to buoy the efforts of the few—and often overburdened—organizations that are exclusively dedicated to meeting the needs of Deaf survivors. Research indicates that Deaf women in the U.S. experience omestic and/or sexual violence at rates twice those of hearing women, yet they routinely encounter barriers when seeking help—from a phone-based 911 system to having their credibility as witnesses in court questioned.

To help address this gap, the Deaf Action to End Domestic and Sexual Violence initiative will increase the capacity of new and established Deaf organizations to address domestic violence, dating violence, sexual assault, and stalking in Deaf communities. Through a grant by the U.S. Department of Justice, Office on Violence Against Women, Vera and its partners—Advocacy Services for Abused Deaf Victims, Abused Deaf Women’s Advocacy Services, and DeafHope—will provide training and assistance over three years to the Deaf domestic and sexual violence programs currently operating in the U.S., as well as to emerging programs.  

“When people suffering violence can’t communicate with those that could help them, they are essentially shut off from services that should be accessible to all survivors,” said Nancy Smith, director of Vera’s Center on Victimization and Safety. “By expanding the vital work of organizations who are often the only ones capable of responding to these calls, we will help more Deaf survivors safely flee from abuse, heal from trauma, and find justice.”

Both the Translating Justice and Deaf Action initiatives build upon Vera’s longstanding work in improving language access for immigrant and Deaf individuals. Since 2005, Vera has been working with victim service providers, law enforcement, and other justice system officials to overcome language and cultural barriers in serving diverse communities, including through publishing guides and providing training. In 2013, Vera hosted the first national training on serving Deaf victims of domestic and sexual violence, and last year authored the first policy and practice brief on the subject.