Dr. Lara Gerassi

Lara Gerassi

Assistant Professor, Sandra Rosenbaum School of Social Work


Lara B. Gerassi’s research focuses on enhancing the health and well-being of people who are involved in the sex trade and/or are at risk of sex trafficking. Her work uses an intersectional, anti-oppressive approach to (1) understand how sex trafficking experiences differ based on race, sex, gender, and sexual orientation among other identities; (2) improve sex trafficking identification practices among health and social service providers; and (3) strengthen the health and community responses for people at risk of sex trafficking and those with lived experiences of sex trafficking and homelessness. She uses community-engaged approaches to increase methodological rigor of her studies and translate knowledge into practice.

Her first-authored book,  Sex Trafficking & Commercial Sexual Exploitation: Prevention, Advocacy, and Trauma-Informed Practice (2017), is the first comprehensive text to critically analyze the current research and best practices for social workers working with children, adolescents, and adults who are at risk of sex trafficking.

Dr. Gerassi multiple courses including Sex Trafficking and Social Work and Practice with Individuals, Families, and Groups. Her research and teaching are informed by her social work practice experience (LCSW), primarily with survivors of violence.

Current Projects

Preparing Practitioners to Identify and Address Sex Trafficking in Northeast Wisconsin. This study assesses social service providers’ knowledge of sex trafficking red flags, screening questions and engagement practices with young people who are at risk of sex trafficking. The project will result in the development of tailored sex trafficking trainings for regional providers across multiple service sectors (i.e. Child Protective Services, Youth Justice, Social Services).

Youths’ Perspectives on Sex Trafficking Assessment Strategies. This study surveys young people with lived experiences of homelessness and/or sex trafficking. The purpose of the study is to understand the relevance to young people of language and strategies that professionals (i.e. social workers, teachers) use to discuss sex trafficking from the perspectives of youth at risk.

The Professional Leadership and Development of Young People with Lived Experiences of Sex Trafficking and Homelessness. This study uses an intersectional, grounded theory approach to understand how young people with lived experiences (ages 16-24) become professional leaders in housing, youth, and ST organizations, and how their professional roles impact their perceived well-being.


Gerassi, L. & Nichols, A. (2017). Sex Trafficking and Commercial Sexual Exploitation: Prevention, Advocacy, and Trauma-Informed Practice. New York, NY: Springer. 

Select Publications

Gerassi, L.B. & *Esbensen, K.. (2020). Motivational Interviewing (MI) among providers in a Midwest region: Perceived use, applicability, and challenges to engagement with individuals at risk of sex trafficking. Journal of Social Work. DOI: 0.1177/1468017320919856

Gerassi, L.B. (2019). How Adult Women Who Trade Sex Navigate Social Services: A Grounded Theory Study. Feminist Criminology. DOI:10.1177/1557085119885444

Gerassi, L.B. (2019). Experiences of Racism and Racial Tensions among African American Women Impacted by Commercial Sexual Exploitation in Practice: A Qualitative Study. Violence Against Women. DOI: 10.1177/1077801219835057

 Gerassi, L.B., Nichols, A.J., +Cox, A., *Goldberg, K.K. *Tang, C.. (2018). Examining Commonly Reported Sex Trafficking Indicators from Practitioners’ Perspectives: Findings from a Pilot Study. Journal of Interpersonal Violence. DOI: 10.1177/0886260518812813

Gerassi, L.B., +Colegrove, A., +McPherson, D.K..(2018). Addressing Race, Racism, and Commercial Sexual Exploitation in Practice through an Action-Based Research Partnership. Action Research. 17:2, 220-236. DOI 10.1177/1476750318807545.

Gerassi, L.B. & Nichols, A. (2017). Heterogeneous perspectives in coalitions and community-based responses to sex trafficking and commercial sex. Journal of Social Service Research, 44 (1).  DOI 10.1080/01488376.2017.1401028

 Gerassi, L.B., Edmond, T.E., Fabbre, V., +Howard, A., & Nichols, A.J. (2017). Disclosing sex trading histories to providers: Barriers and facilitators to navigation of social services among women impacted by commercial sexual exploitation (CSE). Journal of Interpersonal Violence. DOI 10.1177/0886260517746130