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Translation trauma is explored

From language barriers to spirituality, social service providers gained fresh perspective on handling a crisis.

Published September 27, 2003

DADE CITY - It seemed like a simple task.

A woman had been robbed, her precious family heirloom watch stolen. She needed to tell a police officer. But there was a language barrier in the way. And a translator.

Very quickly, confusion reigned.

"My son doesn't do drugs," said the victim, erupting at the long line of seemingly irrelevant questions. "This isn't about my son."

The victim, translator and police officer were acting, but their frustration was real. The scenario took place during one of eight presentations at a conference on domestic violence held Friday by the Sunrise Domestic Violence & Sexual Assault Center.

This presentation centered on cultural differences. Featured speaker Jackie Uhrig, an emergency response team specialist for The Harbor Behavioral Health Care Institute, broke participants into small groups where the so-called translators whispered information back and forth to the victim and service provider.

The purpose was to show how crucial facts could get lost in translation between people of different cultures and languages, particularly in sensitive situations like domestic violence.

"I never did get any help," said faux robbery victim Patricia Pasteur, a guidance counselor at Weightman Middle School, later laughing at the mishap among her, "translator" Connie Ashmore and "police officer" Harold Garves.

Ashmore, a judicial assistant for Circuit Judge Lynn Tepper, was given instructions to expound on the answers and questions given to her. Garves, a probation officer with the Department of Juvenile Justice, was told to act impatiently.

Uhrig used the exercise to show the participants the importance of using professional interpreters with crime victims. She also spoke to the need to be aware of the cultural background of a victim and influences of families or religion on his or her behavior.

The daylong event drew about 85 people to First Presbyterian Church, where featured speakers broke the crowd into smaller groups in two rooms of the church hall. Participants came from the school system, courts, social services and the health care field. Topics included elder sexual abuse; female offenders; batterer's intervention programs; compassion fatigue; and substance abuse with domestic violence.

One of the topics involved religious perspectives on domestic violence.

Terri O'Brien, director of education at Sunrise, spoke about ways of reading the Bible with religious Christian victims whose abusers use Scripture to justify dominant or violent behavior. If a victim is religious and those views aren't addressed, she will not completely overcome her trauma, O'Brien said.

"There's a difference between proselytizing and addressing someone's spiritual needs," she said. To counter many victims' remarks that the abuse is "God's will," or that they need to "keep praying," O'Brien encouraged the group members to point out places in the Bible that show Jesus was not a violent person and that victims should pray for strength instead of thinking they can change someone else.

"They need to understand, they cannot control their partner's behavior," she said.

Participants dissected passages in the Bible that could be used to justify dominance and violence by an abuser and turned them around for another interpretation. For instance, in Genesis, where God takes Adam's rib to create Eve, instead of reading that as man's primacy over woman, the event shows the partnership between the sexes, they agreed.

"(Women) are there to help (men's) life, not to go get your shoes or make your dinner," said Scott Leu, a school social worker.

And where the Bible says that husbands should be the heads of their wives as Christ is the head of his church, the group said that means the husband puts the wife above everything else with reverence and respect.

"With power and control?" O'Brien said. "Absolutely not."

At the end of the day, O'Brien said the conference proved a great way to help social service providers in many walks of life be aware of domestic violence.

"The more people we train on issues of trauma, the better off we all are," O'Brien said.

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