Over the past several weeks, police have been investigating Waukesha massage parlors accused of engaging in prostitution. On December 14, 2016, police arrested four women but have yet to bring charges against them. One reason for the delay is the ongoing nature of the investigation. Another reason, perhaps more relevant, is the limited translation capabilities available to law enforcement officials.
All of the women arrested in the Waukesha prostitution case are Chinese; they don’t speak or understand any language other than their native Mandarin. Undercover officers used hand signals, nods of agreement or refusal, and the presentation of cash to communicate with the women during their undercover investigation. The one female officer involved accessed a translation app on her smartphone in an attempt to communicate with her masseuse; success was limited at best.
Immigrants — legal or not — are often afraid of encounters with police due to language barriers. This can inhibit their cooperation, stall advancement of ongoing investigations, and impede the path to justice. In this case particularly, the language barriers also prompt important questions about whether the masseuses understood what they were supposedly “offering” and “agreeing to.” Based on one news report, the sexual encounters seemed largely initiated and encouraged by an undercover officer posing as a customer.
In any cases involving language barriers, it is especially important for defendants to work with an experienced criminal defense attorney. No matter what language you speak, you have rights in the American criminal justice system. An attorney can ensure that you understand those rights and that they are protected.