Commenced in January 2007
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Qualitative Descriptive Approaches for Interpreting in Police Settings with Trauma Victims

Authors: Ning Guo, Olav Muurlink, Shane Doyle


Interpreters are usually regarded as neutral conduits for transferring information and assisting in maintaining social order in public services. The engagement of interpreters to work in police settings is invariably entrusted to officers on the front line. Working in unison with police when conducting bilingual interviews, the role of interpreters can be akin to that of police. Nonetheless, only police interpreters are experts in two different linguistic and cultural frameworks in the police-suspect interaction; they must undertake the principal role of acting on behalf of speakers in solving communication problems in police interviews. The interpreter’s multi-faced role involves fathoming complex policies and procedures, understanding interviewing patterns, and dealing with traumatised victims, all within emotionally charged policing contexts. Owing to their direct involvement in domestic violence cases, the status of interpreters is prone to becoming marginalised within this highly contested environment. Whilst being considered non-neutral by clients, they are often regarded as the only person who can truly understand the clients’ needs for assistance. Despite interpreters’ pivotal role in police interviews, evidence suggests that they are invariably treated in a functionary manner by investigators. Less scholarly attention has been paid to the psychological consequences for interpreters exposed to victims’ traumatic experiences in police interviews. Some researchers assert that interpreters working with victims may feel helpless and hopeless regarding the root causes of crime and violence. Other studies endorse this view, adding that interpreters might be psychologically impacted by long-term exposure to traumatic content in the workplace. Owing to different cultural viewpoints, this situation can often be compounded when most interpreters felt shame when sharing their emotional problems with others. Some research revealed that interpreters were susceptible to displaying overly empathetic or supportive responses to victims due to constant and prolonged exposure to vulnerable groups. A few studies have found that interpreters perceive police officers as generally approachable and personable. However, within emotionally charged situations, this relationship can often be strained. Some early research found that interpreters lacked self-esteem and received inadequate recognition from police when performing their duties. Some evidence suggests that officers often attempt to devolve their responsibilities to interpreters when conducting investigative interviews. For instance, officers have been accused of coercing interpreters into making statements on their behalf, which breached the interpreters’ code of conduct. Research also revealed that when interpreters failed to comprehend the various multicultural and multilingual nuances, police vented their frustration with interpreters in the form of bullying behaviour. This paper will draw on role-playing theory in examining how trauma may impact interpreters in domestic violence policing settings. A systematic review regarding police interpreters’ vicarious trauma will be conducted, complemented by a documentary analysis, focusing on tertiary education of interpreting competencies. It is anticipated that results could potentially inform theory and practice on how interpreters can more effectively deal with traumatic cases encountered in the workplace.

Keywords: documentary analysis, interpreters’ role, police interpreting, systematic review, vicarious trauma, workplace relationship

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