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Protection-from-abuse orders available in more languages

| Saturday, Oct. 27, 2012, 12:21 a.m.

Pennsylvania court officials removed a barrier for non-English-speaking domestic abuse victims seeking protection, advocates say.

The Administrative Office of Pennsylvania Courts made available protection-from-abuse application forms in several foreign languages this month.

“We know how complicated the legal system is for even English speakers, so when we have non-English speakers, it can be that much more complicated and terrifying,” said Ellen Kramer, legal director for the Pennsylvania Coalition Against Domestic Violence.

The new forms are available in Arabic, simplified Chinese, French, Haitian Creole, Khmer (Cambodian), Korean, Polish, Portuguese, Russian and Vietnamese. Forms in Spanish, the state's second-most frequently used language, have been available for years.

They are available by clicking on the “UJS Forms” tab at the bottom of the state courts website, www.pacourts.us. Near the bottom, under the heading, “For the Judiciary,” are the bilingual forms.

“This goes hand in hand with the courts' desire to promote equal access to the court and its resources regardless of race, gender or ethnic background,” said Art Heinz, a spokesman for the office.

The Pennsylvania Commission on Crime and Delinquency provided $200,000 for a company to determine the most-spoken languages, write a template and publish the forms.

Domestic violence centers and Common Pleas courts relied on a small network of university professors or family members to translate for people who did not speak English. In cities such as Pittsburgh and Philadelphia that generally was not a problem, but advocates said it was difficult in rural areas.

Because the number of Pennsylvania residents who speak a language other than English increased in the past decade, officials said it was time to take action. The number of non-English speakers rose to 10 percent in 2010 from 8 percent in 2000, census data show.

Domestic abuse advocates in Pittsburgh say they've seen a rise in the number of people who speak little or no English and request a PFA order.

Shirl Regan, president and CEO of Women's Center & Shelter of Greater Pittsburgh, said the new forms might help prevent victims from going back to dangerous situations.

“We think this is going to be a growing issue as our population of non-English-speaking people grows,” Regan said.

Adam Brandolph is a staff writerfor Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 412-391-0927 or abrandolph@tribweb.com.

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