Interpreting for victims of gender-based violence

Review of the Domestic Violence Symposium held at RMIT University in December 2018

Have you ever wondered what domestic violence, genital mutilation, child brides and human trafficking might have in common? These are all expressions of violence perpetrated against women because of their gender, known as gender-based violence. Associate professor Maribel del Pozo Triviño, from the University of Vigo, Spain, was the keynote speaker for the Symposium on Interpreting Trauma: Interpreting in Domestic and Family Violence Settings, organised by the Translating and Interpreting Program (T&I) of RMIT in Melbourne and held on the 7th  December 2018. Professor del Pozo Triviño spoke about interpreting for gender-based violence victims and the need for training and specialisation.

Female migrants from non-English speaking backgrounds are among the most vulnerable and at risk of becoming victims. Violence can be manifested in different forms such as emotional, physical, sexual, financial, psychological, to name a few. Gender-based violence victims have a right to be informed and to receive integrated (comprehensive) assistance, including linguistic assistance. All agents (police, judges, prosecutors, social workers, etc.) must have specialised training in gender violence, its nature and dynamics as well as gender and equality issues. What about interpreters though? According to the recommendations that emerged from the Royal Commission on Family Violence (2016:34), the availability of professional and independent interpreting and translating services is inadequate. Professional accreditation standards for interpreters should be amended to incorporate minimum training requirements relating to understanding family violence. This will require a national effort. 

Specialisation should include thematic competence, meaning expert knowledge of gender-based violence, and inter-cultural competence, in order to analyse gender-based violence in specific socio-cultural environments. Other than that, attitudinal competence is required in the sense of the interpreter being able to regularly review their own values and possible prejudices as well as being attentive to other agents’ values and prejudices.

Olga Garcia-Caro, lecturer at RMIT, presented the findings from her own research in to interpreting for victims of domestic violence in Australia, the impact and where to moving forward. She mentioned the lack of specialist training for interpreters and for service providers alike. Furthermore the AUSIT Code of Ethics does not reflect the needs of women who are victims. Currently there aren’t any resources available for interpreter service users if ethical obligations are breached and this must be rectified. Also and as per the recommendation 158 of the Royal Commission, separate interpreters should be provided for the court cases between victims and perpetrators.

Judy Saba, Psychologist and Diversity Trainer for the NSW Police as well as Adjunct Fellow at the Western Sydney University, drew attention to defining and understanding vicarious trauma. She presented a day in the life of an interpreter, compared to that of a police officer, highlighting similarities when dealing with clients in crisis. Burn out and secondary trauma are common issues. She also made mention of some un healthy ways that individuals use to cope with intense professional experiences, such as alcohol, and the cost both personal and financial of doing so.

Building on the above, Dr. Miranda Lai, T&I Program Manager at RMIT, emphasized the need to be alert for signs of vicarious trauma for interpreters dealing with traumatic client contents. Having said that though, interpreters do not seek counselling for a variety of reasons; they feel that interpreting agencies don’t care much about their wellbeing or that admitting being affected may prevent them from getting more jobs. Additionally some think that few channels are available to them or that some communities may view counselling as taboo. Suggestions include a counselling hotline, briefing and debriefing and training for professionals about how to work with interpreters.

Dr. Jim Hlavac from Monash University highlighted a different angle of the issue: interpreting in anger-management counselling sessions with male perpetrators of family violence.  He went on to define what anger and violence are and the challenges from an interpreter’s perspective when working with counsellors and perpetrators of violence for court mandated sessions.


Judy Saba, Psychologist and Diversity Trainer for the NSW Police as well as Adjunct Fellow at the Western Sydney University speaking on burn out when working with clients in crisis (Image: NAATI)

These sessions seek to effect changes in behaviour and to end the violence but participants are usually involuntary and their perspective determines their response to the program (reluctant engagement indicative of non-acceptance; blaming the victim as the guilty party).

The day concluded with a Round Table discussion moderated by Dr. Erika Gonzalez, Senior Lecturer at RMIT and principal organiser of the Symposium. The theme of the discussion was the improvement of the delivery of interpreting services in domestic and family violence settings.  The participants were Mark Painting, NAATI CEO, Michal Morris, InTouch CEO, A/Prof Maribel del Pozo Triviño and Olga Garcia-Caro, RMIT Lecturer and PhD candidate.

The Department of Social Services has produced this fact sheet for interpreters working in domestic violence situations.

Domestic violence symposium panel

Panel members at the Domestic Violence Symposium Dec 2018: NAATI CEO, Mark Painting, InTouch CEO, Michal Morris, Olga Garcia-Caro, RMIT Lecturer and PhD candidate, and A/Prof Maribel del Pozo Triviño Kalgoorlie answer questions from the audience (Image: NAATI)

Despina Amanatidou, Greek Interpreter and Translator Author Biography: Despina Amanatidou is a NAATI Certified Interpreter and Translator with eight years’ experience in medical interpreting. She holds a Bachelor of History and Archaeology from the University of Athens and is currently completing a Masters’ degree in Translation and Interpreting at RMIT. She is also part of the Victorian/Tasmanian AUSIT branch committee where she holds the position of the Professional Development Coordinator.

Published: 18/01/2019