The role of interpreters in police interviews with vulnerable witnesses

Emma Richardson, Elizabeth Stokoe, Charles Antaki

Research output: Unpublished contribution to conferenceAbstract


People with intellectual disabilities (ID) are disproportionately likely to be the victims of sexual assault and rape, yet are also less likely to speak out about their abuse and rarely appear in court (see Antaki et al, 2015). This group is, therefore, over-represented in the numbers of sexual assault cases that do not progress through the criminal justice system (Richardson et al. 2018). One potential barrier to justice is the quality of evidence that can be obtained during the investigative interview, with research also suggesting that ID witnesses may, for instance, yield more to leading questions, or be perceived as unreliable witnesses in court (see Richardson et al, 2018).

Along with other vulnerable witnesses, ID witnesses may be accompanied in the interview by appropriate adults, whose role is to protect the interests of the child or young person or by interpreters. Interpreters assist the interviewee to understand and communicate. Existing CA literature has examined the role of interpreters, and translators, in medical contexts (see Friedland and Penn, 2003; Watermeyer, 2011; Penn and Watermeyer, 2012, 2014; Niemants and Stokoe, 2017). However, we know very little about the role of these other parties to the investigative interview, especially in cases of interviews with alleged victims of sexual assault and rape.

This paper in progress examines a corpus of police investigative interviews with vulnerable adult and child witnesses reporting rape and sexual assault. The dataset comprises 19 video-recorded interviews, provided by a police service in England. All identifying features, including names, places, voices, and faces, have been obscured for anonymity purposes. Within a corpus of 20 interviews, 10 are conducted with an appropriate adult, translator or interpreter present.
The extent to which the interpreter contributes to the conversation varies from all turns being translated through a sign interpreter to a few minimal turns from an appropriate adult, such as a parent. I will present a preliminary conversation analysis of interviews focussing on the role of the interpreter in facilitating officer-witness communication. The specific analytic focus will be on occasions where officer-witness communication ‘breaks down’ and the interpreter or appropriate adult speaks, and how this impacts progressivity of the interaction between officer and witness. The intended outcome of this analysis is to contribute to the CA literature on role of interpreters and intermediaries specifically in investigative interviews.
Original languageEnglish
Publication statusPublished - 29 Jun 2020
EventEuropean Conference of Conversation Analysis -
Duration: 29 Jun 202030 Jun 2020


ConferenceEuropean Conference of Conversation Analysis
Abbreviated titleECCA


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