Interpreting

Language can be a significant barrier for torture survivors who are navigating systems and procedures in unfamiliar environments.

Freedom from Torture provides an interpreting service that enables clients to communicate with clinicians who do not speak their language. It plays a pivotal part in clients' treatment and rehabilitation. In 2010, interpreters worked with clients and clinicians in sessions for some 8,140 hours.

The meaning behind the words

For Freedom from Torture interpreters, cultural interpretation complements linguistic interpretation. Interpreters use their background knowledge to explain what the client is saying. This is crucial for effective communication.

Interpretation, available in 56 languages, is an integral part of the clinical service provided to non-English speaking clients. Interpreters work closely with practitioners to foster a spirit of trust between the client, the clinician and themselves. This enables the client to feel comfortable and able to talk freely about the torture and other traumatic experiences that he or she has endured.

The power of empathy

Many of the 62 people who provide this specialised interpretation service have fled the same conflicts and oppressive regimes as Freedom from Torture clients, and some of them are torture survivors themselves. This gives our interpreters a genuine understanding of clients’ experiences of torture and the difficulties they face starting again in a strange country.

Interpreters are carefully matched to meet clients' needs with regard to language, gender, region and (where possible) ethnicity. This ensures that communication is accurate and that clients and clinicians have the highest level of understanding of each other.

'Apart from good language and interpreting skills, interpreters must also be committed to the people we are trying to help. Sometimes that can be even more important than a language certificate. They have to sympathise with the treatment  provided to clients and with the campaign against torture, as this is also a crucial part of Freedom from Torture's work.' Interpreting Service’s manager, Clarisa Carvalho

A window on the world

A glance at the major languages offered by Freedom from Torture interpreters shows how widespread torture is throughout the world. Farsi (for Iran), Turkish, Amharic (for Ethiopia and Eritrea), French, Lingala (for the Democratic Republic of Congo), Tamil, Tigrinya (for Eritrea), Pashto (for Pakistan and Afghanistan), Dari and Arabic are the major languages offered.

Interpreters also work with clients speaking lesser-known languages, such as Kinyarwanda and Kirundi (Rwanda), Mende (Sierra Leone), Ndebele (Zimbabwe) and Zaghawa (West Africa).

Developing and sharing our skills

Using the skills of its senior interpreters,  Freedom for Torture trains health workers on how to work with interpreters in order to help torture survivors. Working together, interpreters and practitioners have written a code of practice for their work, which establishes boundaries for sessions with clients.

Freedom from Torture’s Audit & Evaluation team carried out an extensive evaluation of the Interpreting Service, speaking with clients, practitioners and interpreters. As a result, senior interpreters and practitioners are developing a resource: Interpreters and Practitioners working together with torture survivors: Good Practice Guidelines. These guidelines summarise 25 years of expertise from communication between practitioners, interpreters and clients in assessment, Medico-Legal Report documentation and therapy.

Read 'Supporting Victims of Torture' in The Linguist, 2004, 43 (1), pp2-4

This article is  co-authored by Freedom from Torture Senior Interpreter Annemarie Fox who works with Romanian and francophone African clients. Annemarie is a member of Freedom from Torture's Children, Young People and Families Team