Language Access As Security

By: Jack Xu

MCIS was created with the mission of providing interpretation services to the victims of domestic violence in an effort to increase access to justice. This was in recognition of the fact that reporting domestic violence is hard enough as it is without the added obstacle of language barriers.

It’s easy to imagine that this would be true. It’s harder to actually put one’s self in the shoes of a victim of domestic violence who faces language barriers. But then I travelled to the Middle East – somewhere that I didn’t speak the language – and I came to fully appreciate the importance of language access.

People asked whether I was scared to travel alone in a conflict zone, but what scared me more was not knowing how to ask for help. I was always in a sea of friendly faces, and yet if I was the victim of violence, I didn’t know how to locate a police station – much less tell them what had happened to me or describe the person who had done it. If I got sick, I didn’t know how to find a doctor, much less describe what I was feeling. And even if I could convey the basics through what could be mimed or drawn, there would inevitably be important nuance lost in the process. Could I be accurate? Could I be convincing? Would I even bother seeking out the help I needed for fear of embarrassment, or for fear of getting myself in trouble by inadvertently saying the wrong thing?

As a communications professional, I had spent a lot of my time considering the power of words. How people use language to convey or obscure meaning, to persuade or deceive, and to evoke a desired emotion. My entire career is premised on the belief that language is a strategic asset. And yet, it wasn’t until I started travelling to remote places that I really understood that language is more than an asset; it is a basic need. Like shelter, the value of language is more than just utilitarian; it is grounding and empowering, and its absence is isolating and unsettling.

That’s why language access is not merely a resource that makes escaping domestic violence easier; for many, it is a necessary precondition to escaping domestic violence. Language access breaks down barriers to information, to community, to resources, and ultimately to justice.

We’re so proud to be a resource for the brave people who are building better lives for themselves and their families, and we’re so grateful for our partners who enable us to continue to serve that purpose.