An image of a stack of books with the word survivor in Mandarin, Spanish, Arabic, French and English.
International and Newcomer Survivors, we are here to support you
We here at VSAC believe it is critical to meet the language support needs of newcomer, refugee, and/or international student survivors, and are excited to offer information about our services and options available to survivors in Mandarin, French, Spanish, and Arabic.
For Victim and Survivors of Crime Week 2019, we are releasing translated resource booklets for recent survivors with information about accessing our Sexual Assault Response Team, police reporting and the criminal justice process.
The Importance of Language
In conversation with Catherine Day, one of VSAC’s long-time crisis counsellors, she shares some of her insight when supporting survivors whose first language is not English. As a crisis counsellor, Catherine assists in dealing with the most immediate emotional, physical and behavioural responses to sexual assault, or provides help for those women, Trans, Two-Spirit and Gender Non-Conforming survivors who are currently experiencing a crisis in their life as a result of historical sexual abuse. In her role supporting folks in the ‘here and now’, Catherine has worked with many international students and foreign workers that have experienced sexualized violence.
Catherine was born and raised in Spain and speaks fluent Spanish, as well as some French, which has been beneficial in supporting some of her clients. Yet, even for herself or several other counsellors who have conversational capacity in a second language, they may not always know the equivalent words for important things like, ‘forensic kit,’ ‘charge approval,’ or even ‘consent’. So, having the translated support booklets and pamphlet on survivor support and legal resources will not only be beneficial for survivors whose first language is not English, but also for staff here at the centre to ensure that they are using the right words to communicate effectively with their clients.
Catherine believes that it’s important to offer services and resources in multiple languages because survivors may be coming from places where the social and legal dynamics are different from BC, or they may have been deliberately or otherwise, misinformed on such matters. In this way, survivors may not be aware of the supports available to them, or they may feel afraid to access services if they are unsure/not confident in seeking support services.
Providing Services to International and Newcomer Survivors
Karen Wickham, our Clinic Coordinator, sees international students whose first language is not English, on a fairly regular basis through our Sexual Assault Response Team (SART) program. Karen shares that there are a number of potential challenges for international students and newcomers when they access care and healing supports. Some have baseline English, but as many language schools and programs do not teach students the names and understandings of body parts (ie: genitals), it can be challenging for a newcomer survivor to communicate details of their assault to Forensic Nurse Examiners and Victim Support workers who may not be equipped to speak the first language of the survivor. It is for this reason that our Clinic exam room houses two anatomically-correct (binary) dolls to supplement the language abilities of survivors.
If a survivor is accessing our SART program, they are required to read, agree to, and sign a ‘consent for treatment’ document. If language is a barrier, some survivors choose to ask their supporter for translation assistance. For others, SART can access an over-the-phone translation service used by the Health Authority. Others opt to use the Victim Link BC phone service which offers a toll-free, confidential, multilingual telephone service available across B.C. and the Yukon 24 hours a day, 7 days a week at 1-800-563-0808. For those wishing to access crisis counselling and victim support and English is a barrier, VSAC works with the Inter-Cultural Association in Victoria to provide an in-person translator. It is important for service providers to work together to offer alternatives that are accessible for everyone, including survivors whose first language is not English.
Karen articulates how collaborative efforts are needed to adequately support international student, newcomer, and refugee survivors as these folks are more vulnerable to sexualized violence and may be less connected to/aware of community supports available to them. In order to have a coordinated response to sexual assault, service providers and law enforcement work together on Team Victoria (members include forensic nurse examiners, RCMP, municipal police, Canadian Forces National Investigative Service, Crown Counsel, Victim Service Workers and our Clinic Coordinator). In regards to supporting survivors whose first language is not English, members of Team Victoria have collaborated on outreach initiatives to reach supporters (ie: host parents and families) and connect them with newcomer survivors, and to build community awareness of available services in the city. Karen firmly believes that all survivors should be able to have support in the language they are most comfortable with, and translating our survivor support booklets and pamphlet is a step in the right direction.
This blog is part of our 2-part blog series for Victims and Survivors of Crime Week 2019. Please look out for our online and print advertisements in Victoria News during the week of May 27-June 1, 2019. Funding generously provided by The Department of Justice Canada.