New Book Aids Social Work Practice in Prevention and Treatment of Sex Trafficking and Commercial Sexual Exploitation

Co-authored by Assistant Professor, Lara Gerassi


Assistant Professor, Lara GerassiSex trafficking and commercial sexual exploitation (CSE) are not new. Organizations such as Children of the Night, increased political attention, and legislation over the past several decades have brought sex trafficking and CSE into public view. However, until recently, few if any resources dealt closely and specifically with research-based social work practices of working with survivors of sex trafficking and CSE. A newly published book, co-authored by UW-Madison School of Social Work Assistant Professor Lara Gerassi and Andrea J. Nichols helps fill this gap.

BookSex Trafficking and Commercial Sexual Exploitation: Prevention, Advocacy, and Trauma-Informed Practice, tackles an emerging field and stresses the varied and particular needs of children, adolescents, and adults who have been trafficked.


“There are many misconceptions about who trafficking survivors are (and how they present themselves), which may ultimately lead to many missed opportunities to identify and intervene,” says Gerassi. “We wrote this book to help people who come into contact with individuals, who are at risk of or have been sex trafficked, strengthen their ability to prevent sex trafficking in their communities, identify potential survivors or people at risk, and provide them intersectional and trauma-informed services.”


The book includes an introduction to the topic with working definitions of sex trafficking and CSE from a legal, research, and political viewpoint; descriptions of the various forms of sex trafficking and CSE; the varied characteristics of survivors; and the known prevalence and need for services. From there, the work dives more deeply into the necessary nuance of social work practice that better meets individuals’ needs.


“A one-size fits all model will often work well with those who self-identify as victims or survivors of trafficking and those who do not have personal and societal histories of being underserved or mistreated by social service organizations or the criminal justice system,” according to Gerassi. However, “people rarely self-identify as victims” of sex trafficking.


Additionally, individuals who identify as people of color and LGBTQ* are overrepresented as survivors. “Without services that specifically address the challenges and dynamics of social oppression, we are likely to only reach a small and more visible group of survivors,” says Gerassi.


The authors look at prevention, identification, practice techniques (with a reconsideration of a one-size fits-all approach), and program design. Responses from an interagency, criminal justice, and legislative perspective are also considered. The text is informed by research in social work, trauma care, and violence against women and moves understanding of working with survivors into a more research-informed context.


The text is intended for upper-division courses in social work, psychology, counseling, and criminal justice as well as a resource for practitioners who work with victims of sex trafficking and CSE.


Gerassi and Nichols emphasize the following points among their recommendations:

  • Prevention work must reflect the diverse characteristics of individuals at risk of trafficking and exploitation
  • In order to identify victims, practitioners need to take into account the various forms of sex trafficking and exploitation and be well-versed in particular indicators
  • Culturally-competent, survivor-centered practice is indispensable for the well-being of people involved in or at risk for sex trafficking and exploitation
  • All programming must be trauma-informed
  • Survivor-centered advocacy is necessary within the criminal justice system. This could include, but is not limited to: prosecution of offenders and legal services, visa applications, and restitution for survivors.


Lara Gerassi, PhD, LCSW is an assistant professor in the School of Social Work and an affiliate in the Department of Gender and Women’s Studies.

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Last edited by portier on Friday, December 15, 2017 | Printer Friendly Version