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New Faculty Focus: Lara Gerassi

October 3, 2017

Title: Assistant Professor at the School of Social Work and Affiliate with the Department of Gender and Women’s Studies

Hometown: Long Beach, New York, but I moved here from St. Louis.

Lara Gerassi

Educational/professional background: Bachelor of Social Work, New York University; Master of Social Work and Ph.D., Washington University in St. Louis.

How did you get into your field of research? I earned my clinical license (LCSW) while working with women who were survivors of intimate partner and sexual violence. In my direct practice work, I heard some recount stories of intimate partners or close friends pressuring, coercing, and/or forcing them to sell sex for money or drugs as well as many exchanges of sexual acts for basic needs (known as survival sex). I realized that my colleagues and I were seeing sex trafficking and commercial sexual exploitation on a daily basis and I eventually returned to school to dedicate a career to research in these areas.

What attracted you to UW–Madison? I was drawn to theSchool of Social Work because of its commitment to bridging the gap between social work practice and research, and the impressive, down-to-earth scholars doing this work every day. At the university, I was thrilled by the opportunity to work with the4W Initiative (focusing on Women & Wellbeing in Wisconsin and the World) and the STREETS Project focused on sex trafficking and exploitation.

What was your first visit to campus like? My first visit was on a gorgeous, Memorial Day weekend and included delicious ice cream cones on Memorial Terrace. My second visit, on the other hand, took place during an extensive snowstorm and included multiple flight delays. I believe I have seen both sides of the spectrum.

Favorite place on campus? Memorial Terrace is hard to beat but I am still exploring.

What are you most enjoying so far about working here? I feel incredibly welcomed and valued by my colleagues at the School of Social Work, Department of Gender and Women’s Studies, and the 4W Initiative. This had greatly helped with my transition to my new academic home. In addition, I have also enjoyed biking to work this summer!

What’s something interesting about your area of expertise you can share that will make us sound smarter at parties? People often associate trafficking with the movie Taken or a stranger abducting and torturing someone against their will in a basement somewhere. Although this type of sex trafficking does happen, only 7 to 11 percent of trafficking cases involve kidnapping or abduction. Most cases involve a known person to the victim/survivor, such as a family member, friend, or intimate partner.

Hobbies/other interests: running, biking, traveling, and singing.