Date of Degree

9-2022

Document Type

Dissertation

Degree Name

Ph.D.

Program

Psychology

Advisor

Chitra Raghavan

Committee Members

William Gottdiener

Peggilee Wupperman

Evan Stark

Dara Sheinfeld

Subject Categories

Clinical Psychology

Keywords

sex trafficking, commercial sex, trauma, coercive control, victimization

Abstract

Commercial sexual exploitation (i.e., sex trafficking) can lead to myriad negative consequences for its victims, including exposure to coercive control and the development of trauma-coerced attachments. Scholars have offered theoretical conceptualizations of the relation between coercive environments and traumatic attachments, but this relationship is rarely empirically examined. The current study used data from 68 semi-structured interviews with former victims of sex trafficking to first, formally identify coercive control and second, empirically classify trauma-coerced attachment in this population. Mixed-method analysis were used to identify associations between coercive control and TCA in order to better explain how this abuse dynamic leads to the formation of such bonds with a focus on the unique role of intermittent reward and punishment (a subtype of coercive control). Findings indicated that women in pimp-controlled commercial sex were subjected to high and severe levels of coercive control, and that coercion takes a unique form in this population compared to coercive control in domestic violence contexts, where it is typically studied. Findings also indicate that more extreme coercive control contributes to more severe levels of trauma-coerced attachment. Unexpectedly, dissociation was not related to trauma-coerced attachment as hypothesized. Important guidelines for the reliable assessment of coercive control and trauma-coerced attachment in a sex-trafficking context are offered for empirical, clinical, and legal settings.

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