API Chaya member Priya Nair, center, hands a sign to Zarna Joshi, right, during API Chaya’s 23rd annual vigil at the King County Courthouse in Seattle, Washington, on March 1, 2018 • Photo By Carolyn Bick

API Chaya is building on its Natural Helpers program and creating the Multilingual Natural Helpers Program. This development is part of a broader shift to improve language access, not just for clients, but for all multilingual people – including survivors of violence, folks with disabilities, low-wage workers, and workers in prison – as part of our vision to end violence.

API Chaya serves South Asian, Asian, Pacific Islander and immigrant survivors of violence. We recognize that state mechanisms, such as police, often fail to aid communities of color that are experiencing violence and often exacerbate it. API Chaya believes that community-centered and community-driven solutions are the key to ending violence. This means trusting that survivors and communities of color are experts in their experience and taking their leadership when it comes to implementing actions and policies. It also means supporting the development of skills within communities that individuals can utilize to help address or even prevent violence, since survivors often reach out to people they know before turning to an advocacy organization or state agency.

API Chaya’s Natural Helpers program was developed over 15 years ago to help create a network of individuals who are trained to recognize the dynamics and warning signs of abuse and help support survivors in accessing resources and assistance. And it is the focus on access that is driving the current work.

In 2017, API Chaya gathered stories from program participants and community members who were delayed and/or denied services as a result of their request for interpretation, despite most agencies being legally required to provide interpreters for all of their programs. Survivors reported that the denial of interpreters led to several grave consequences including further physical harm, arrest, losing custody of their children, among others. As the climate of fear for immigrant communities heightens, it is imperative that we fight back by fighting for language access in all settings, from schools to hospitals to law enforcement and social services.

“We serve several limited English proficiency (LEP) survivors who have been arrested and charged with a crime of domestic violence against their partner or family member,” said Yukie, an API Chaya advocate organizer. “This usually happens because the English-speaking partner or family member accused them, and the LEP survivors cannot communicate with the arresting officer, who neglects to provide a interpreter. It is especially detrimental to immigrant and LEP survivors.”

Criminal charges add another complicated layer to already complex issues of gender-based violence. Survivors who are arrested as victim defendants fear and may face deportation, loss of immigration status, loss of child custody, and homelessness. The inability to adequately communicate in English is a barrier, but agencies must be able to serve non-English speakers in order for them to access justice, safety and healing.

“Our multilingual advocates have played an instrumental role in assisting survivors and family,” said Yukie. “ While all federally-funded agencies are legally obligated to provide meaningful access to all people, we know that all services are not equally accessible, especially for people with limited English proficiency (LEP). Our advocates are often used as interpreters so that other agencies can extend their services to LEP communities. But this does not mean that the service providers are in compliance with their legal obligations.”

API Chaya continues to advocate for stronger enforcement of Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, 42 U.S.C. 2000d, et seq. It states: “No person in the United States shall, on the ground of race, color, or national origin, be excluded from participation in, be denied the benefits of, or be subjected to discrimination under any program or activity receiving Federal financial assistance.”

Language access is a human right. It is vital to be able to communicate with each other to relay important information, to problem solve and to meet basic needs. Being able to read signs and to navigate to certain areas, being able to speak to people, understand what they say to you and be understood are things monolingual English speakers take for granted. For the survivors served by API Chaya and the advocates and community organizers who assist them, it is foundational to getting justice and, ultimately, everyone’s liberation.

“Without language access, our clients cannot communicate with us and vice versa,” said Hao, an advocate organizer who staffs the Human Trafficking Support Group. “If we cannot communicate, we cannot understand what their needs are. If we cannot understand what their needs are, we cannot advocate for their lives and help them move forward.”

The nature of trafficking is incredibly isolating. “The majority of my clients arrived as a single person,” said Hao. “Their families are back home, and a lot of them don’t have anybody. Everybody needs a sense of family and community. They understand each other much better and feel safer if they are in a group of people that share a similar trauma experience. It also brings a lot of hope because seeing other clients who came in a group before them get immigration status – already moving forward, stabilized, having a job, a car, and a stable place to live – gives hope to newer clients to continue to move forward, which is even more powerful than what I tell them.”

Although language has been a barrier, the Human Trafficking Support Group has managed to navigate creatively to create a space for survivors to build community. Using mentorship and peer support, the group exchanges ideas and stories about their successes and self-care techniques, coping mechanisms, dreams and goals. They give support in the form of introducing each other to jobs and resources.

Education is certainly foundational in building a movement to end systemic violence. API Chaya’s language access campaign will be pushing to ensure that language accessibility is properly resourced and enforced. We invite you to join our work by getting involved as a volunteer and attending our trainings. API Chaya is particularly seeking individuals with multilingual language skills. To become a Natural Helper or a Multilingual Natural Helper, individuals complete the core Community Education Series topics and the Natural Helpers training. Together, we can build the skills of our community to support survivors and demand language access in every setting that survivors may reach out to for help. To get more involved, contact [email protected].

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