Sexual violence is an underreported crime in the U.S. When it comes to sexual violence, there are several factors that can prevent a survivor from seeking help from law enforcement agencies or social services. While it’s difficult for many survivors to report their assault or access services, survivors who are immigrants may face an additional layer of cultural challenges in reporting an assault in the form of a language barrier.

For immigrant women in the U.S., especially immigrants from Asian Pacific Islander (API) communities, Limited English Proficiency (LEP) can be one of the most disempowering and frustrating obstacles that may result in a dead end when seeking services. Victims with LEP might be reluctant or unable to access mainstream social or legal services, report to law enforcement, or may even be unaware of their legal or social rights. Agencies providing support services to survivors who are immigrants and/or have LEP may face multiple challenges. An agency best provides services when it identifies the language needs of its serviced population and has multi-lingual staff who can provide the requisite services in the language in which the survivor is most comfortable communicating.


Advocates and agencies can best succeed in serving all survivors when they:

  • Identify language needs immediately. Survivors with LEP are often more comfortable speaking about their experiences in their native languages. Resources like language identification cards and identifying which languages are spoken in your county through a language needs assessment can assist agencies in creating accessible services. Advocates and agencies should consider collaborating with community-based, culturally- and linguistically-specific organizations to support language access for survivors.
  • Access skilled interpreters. Advocates taking help from untrained interpreters or family members acting as interpreters need to keep in mind that untrained interpreters can misinterpret or impose their own perceptions on a survivor’s account. For instance, asking a survivor’s family member to serve as translator during the disclosure of a deeply personal experience could prevent the survivor from divulging information. Competent interpreters can communicate accurately in both languages and understand their responsibility to keep confidential any information that they learn. Organizations working with interpreters need to create policies around how confidentiality will be respected during interpretation. It is in the survivor’s and agency’s best interest not to involve untrained interpreters. Check out resources here and here on best practices and tips for working with interpreters.
  • Carefully consider language choices. Slang, jargon, humor, and idiom are subject to cultural connotations and can get misinterpreted by the survivor, distracting, or disengaging them.
  • Honor survivors’ vast diversity through continuous learning: Agencies can have advocates who might be familiar with the culture of the survivor, or even be from the same linguistic community. However, given the diversity seen within API communities, avoid generalizations and stereotyping of cultural attributes.

In the effort to ensure all survivors in our communities have access to appropriate services, it is critical to ensure language accessibility is included as part of best practices.  These strategies can form part of a comprehensive plan to ensure that survivors with LEP can still access the important resources they seek.

Satarupa Dasgupta is the Sexual Assault Support Coordinator at Manavi, a culturally specific non for profit focused on ending violence against women in the South Asian community. In her current role at Manavi, she is designing and implementing culturally and linguistically specific sexual assault support services for immigrant populations in New Jersey.  She has twelve years of experience working in social and healthcare initiatives, grassroots organizing and advocacy programs in sexual violence support services. Satarupa has a PhD in health communication from Temple University. Satarupa specializes in sexual assault advocacy, health education and promotion, and sexual health program development.

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