“Everything I told you then is true. … But the interpreter there told me that a faithful woman must not use words like sex and rape. Words like that would dishonor my husband and our family. She also said that I was a blasphemer, because I went to the police. No woman should report her own husband. The husband must be honored.” — “Sali” in an apparent suicide note to her lawyer, Alexander Stevens.
“I am aware of statements in which interpreters have pressed and supposedly said to Christians on the way to the police or beforehand: If you complain, you can forget your application for asylum. I often noticed that statements were retracted because Christians were threatened.” — Paulus Kurt, Central Committee of Eastern Christians in Germany (ZOCD).
“The interpreters are neither employed by the Federal Agency, nor are they in any way sworn in to the legal system of the Federal Republic of Germany. Ultimately, examination of the asylum application is left solely to these interpreters… In our view, a decision-making process such as this, which is practiced on a massive scale, is not in keeping with due process.” — Open letter from employees of Germany’s Federal Agency for Migration and Refugees.
Alexander Stevens is a lawyer at a Munich law firm specializing in sexual offenses. In his recent book, Sex in Court, he describes some of his strangest and most shocking cases. One such case raises the question: What do you do when interpreters working for the police and courts lie and manipulate? As no one monitors translators, it is likely that in many instances, the dishonesty of interpreters goes undetected — Stevens’ book chronicles the devastating effects one dishonest interpreter had on a case.
The parents of a Syrian girl, “Sali,” had promised their daughter to a man named Hassan, who, at the time, was still living in Syria. The arrangement was seen as mutually beneficial: Sali’s parents would receive money and Hassan would be allowed to enter Germany. Sali would never willingly have married a man 34 years her senior, but the family’s honor required it. However, Sali did not receive any benefits from this arrangement. Hassan’s interest in Sali was apparently confined to her body. He forced Sali to perform all kinds of sexual practices several times a day, and brutally abused the girl in the process.
Sali was unable to hide the fact that she took no pleasure in these rapes and she became ill, so Hassan reproached her and “openly threatened to demand a large compensation payment from her family, for the cost of the wedding reception and lost pleasures of love.” Sali sought help from a women’s shelter, where an employee took her to a lawyer: Stevens. At the shelter, Sali described her misfortune, but was careful repeatedly to come to her husband’s defense. She was more worried about her family’s honor, should Hassan decided to divorce her, than about herself.
“After two hours of painstaking depictions of sexual abuse, corporal punishment, and mental humiliation,” Stevens writes, “I had no doubt that everything had actually happened as she said.”
The next day, Stevens tried to get an appointment for questioning with the police and an interpreter. But he was surprised when he got to the shelter. Sali was like a different person. Suddenly, she wanted nothing to do with him or the women’s shelter employee.
Sometime later, an employee of the women’s shelter sent him a letter that Sali had left behind for him. It read:
Dear Mr. Stevens,
I am very sorry to have caused you so much inconvenience. Please believe me when I say I did not want to. Everything I told you then is true. I also wanted to make a statement to the police regarding what I told you. But the interpreter there told me that a faithful woman must not use words like sex and rape. Words like that would dishonor my husband and our family. She also said that I was a blasphemer, because I went to the police. No woman should report her own husband. The husband must be honored. I did not know what to do, Mr. Stevens. Because I think she is right. I should never have disgraced my husband and my family. Therefore, I would ask you not to tell anyone. I do not want to create any more trouble for my family and my husband’s family. Please forgive me. You were very good to me.
By this time, Sali was already dead. According to the employee from the women’s shelter, the police suspected suicide.