In order to accommodate the language barrier faced by non-native speakers afflicted by domestic violence, the Pennsylvania Judiciary is now providing protection from abuse forms in different languages.
Protection from abuse forms are documents in civil proceedings that would provide a measure of security in a household where there was a need or a concern about domestic violence, said Art Heinz, spokesperson and communications coordinator of the Administrative Office of Pennsylvania Courts.
The forms have been translated into 10 of the most widely used foreign languages in the state, including simplified Chinese, Arabic, French, Korean, Vietnamese, Brazilian Portuguese, Haitian Creole, Cambodian, Polish and Russian, Heinz said.
Penn State Immigration Expert and Law Professor Shoba Sivaprasad Wadhia said the translated forms may render the justice system more accessible.
“Offering court documents in multiple languages is a positive step forward and recognizes both the complexity of the legal system and the unique barriers faced by individuals whose primary language is not English,” Wadhia wrote in an email.
Wadhia wrote that the challenges faced by non-citizens in particular may include language barriers, cultural differences and/or lack of familiarity with the United States legal system.
Merrill David,executive director of Global Connections, a community-based, non-profit agency affiliated with Penn State, said inherent cultural differences may further add to the confusion that comes with immigration.
“There are many countries and cultures where [domestic violence or spousal abuse] is accepted,” David said.
She said it is vital for women to understand that support is available for them, and domestic abuse is a violation of the law in the United States.
David said it is otherwise hard for individuals that have just arrived from other countries to be aware of the laws in place in the U.S., which inevitably isolates them from legal proceedings.
“There’s a lot more involved when the abused, hurt person is here under visa,” David said. “That is dependent upon their spouse, and the abuser can use that against them and threaten them [with deportation] when that’s not necessarily the case.”
Heinz said the translated forms are part of an extended effort by the state to help individuals transcend inconveniences that come with diversity.
“We do know the state is diversifying in terms of ethnicity, language, culture and we see that in many of our cities and counties across Pennsylvania,” he said.