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The advocate as gatekeeper: The limits of politeness in protective order interviews with Latina survivors of domestic abuse

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Within institutions that provide assistance to victims of domestic violence, professionals and volunteers work as advocates for their clients at the same time that they act as gatekeepers for their agencies. While the labor of advocacy consists of empowering clients and validating their concerns and feelings, the task of gatekeeping entails making judgments about them in order to dole out goods and services. Thirty protective order interviews and their resulting affidavits form the data for this study. These interviews take place in a district attorney's office and in a pro bono law clinic. This micro-level analysis of the verbal interaction between protective order application interviewers (both paid and volunteer) and their Latina clients investigates what positive politeness strategies can reveal about how interviewers construct the conflicting discursive identities of advocate and gatekeeper. I examine what interviewers say to clients as well as how interviewers allow clients to give their accounts of abuse. The study points to specific linguistic techniques that may leave victims feeling unaccompanied in the sociolegal system. I suggest that one consequence of the gatekeeping required of interviewers is that victim-survivors may perceive a ‘second assault’ by the institutions meant to serve them. Linguistic phenomena particular to Latina women in the United States are also brought to light.

Keywords: Domestic violence; Latino; face; frames; gatekeeping; positive politeness

Document Type: Research Article


Affiliations: Florida State University

Publication date: November 1, 2001


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