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Linguistic Indicators of Coercive Control: Evidenced in Sex Trafficking Narratives
Violence and Gender  (IF),  Pub Date : 2021-12-01, DOI: 10.1089/vio.2020.0105
Jessica B. Pomerantz, Shuki J. Cohen, Kendra Doychak, Chitra Raghavan

Prior research on coercive control has focused on coercive behavioral tactics to better understand how coercion is exacted in abusive relationships. Furthering this body of research, this study extends coercive behavior to the linguistic domain, by examining the linguistic correlates of long-term coercive relationships. Using transcripts of wiretapped conversations, spanning a 2-year period, between two pimps and four women they sexually exploited, this study examined the distinct linguistic manifestation of asymmetric power in commercial sexual exploitation. Our findings suggest a complementary linguistic dimension to the commonly reported behavioral repertoire of coercive control tactics. Specifically, the victims consistently complied with the microregulation and surveillance presumed by their pimps by engaging in discursive overelaboration. This overelaboration often included details of their location, activity, and timing—and were designed to justify those as work-and profit-relevant. This pattern of pre-emptive, unsolicited overelaboration that the commercial sexually exploited women exhibited toward their pimps was almost nonexistent in their personal conversations with other individuals. These results open the opportunity for the indirect measurement of interpersonal abuse, making it less dependent on explicit physical abuse and more broadly situated within the coercive environment.