Dr. Lara Gerassi HT-RADAR Spotlight Interview
Research in the field of exploitation is essential to understanding how to identify and combat trafficking as well as walk alongside survivors. What often gets missed is the people and the passion that drives this critical research. One such researcher, Dr. Lara Gerassi, is an assistant professor and researcher at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. Her research focuses on changing outcomes for those who are involved or at risk of sex trafficking. Her most recent work Have you ever traded sex for money or drugs?’ Health care providers’ perspectives on sex trafficking risk assessments in clinics was published in March of 2021. It focuses on understanding the “perceived barriers to sex trafficking risk assessment among health care providers in a large health care organization.” Her work does not stop there; alongside her published research, Dr. Gerassi mentors and teaches the next generation of change-makers at the University’s Sandra Rosenbaum school of social work. She instills in her students a passion for people and brings light to the truth behind trafficking.
Dr. Gerassi was first drawn to social work in high school after being placed in the Natural Helpers program. In the program, she saw the challenges students were going through and began to see both the lack of structural support and oppression that exist and affect the outcomes for students. In her social work training, she learned about trafficking but thought of it as an issue far away, not something happening in her community. After discussions with people who have experienced exploitation, she soon realized that trafficking was entirely different than what she thought. Dr. Gerassi began to ask questions about what trafficking looks like in the United States, in her state, her neighborhood. Her work started with the hope of dispelling some of the commonly held stereotypes of trafficking, traffickers, and survivors that come in the way of positive change. When asked about some of the most impactful moments of her career, Dr. Gerassi replied that several small conversations with others in which myths about human trafficking were dispelled had been one the best moments of her career. This is why research like that of Dr. Gerassi is essential; understanding the truth behind what trafficking looks like is one of the first steps towards effective change.
As those who work in the anti-trafficking field know well, the work can be weighty. For Dr. Gerassi, it is essential to hold firm boundaries between work and family time. She takes time to do the things she enjoys, like running, baking, and spending time with her family. She also emphasizes how important it is to examine collective community care. She recognizes that self-care is a privilege since it often takes time and resources, which many do not have. She believes it is essential to look at how we can hold space in the workplace and take care of each other by structuring policies and norms to take care of each other while examining power structures that contribute to unhealthy boundaries. Another important aspect of caring for our community is finding professional groups that provide spaces for recharging work.
Feminist scholars like Kimberle Crenshaw and Patricia Hill Collins have inspired her work. These women and all the people who have lived experience with exploitation and continue to pursue justice and activism give her hope for change. Moving forward, Dr. Gerassi hopes to continue to create impact through her projects with a more hands-on approach. She wants to continue to be a good role model and mentor for her growing research team. Most importantly, she hopes to find balance as a working mom of two. Dr. Gerassi is an accomplished researcher, a passionate teacher and mentor, and one of the faces behind research in the field of exploitation. For more information about Dr. Gerassi or to explore her research, please visit this webpage hosted by the University of Wisconsin-Madison.
Dr. Laura Murphy HT-RADAR Spotlight Interview
Dr. Laura Murphy is a professor of human rights and contemporary slavery at Sheffield Hallam University, located in Sheffield, United Kingdom. Her research focuses on trafficking and forced labor across the world. From her lively attitude to her deep passion for efforts against trafficking, Dr. Murphy is an example of the wonderful people behind critical research. Author of The new slave narrative: The battle over representations of contemporary slavery and Survivors of Slavery: Modern-day slave narratives, Dr. Murphy has used her research to bring the experiences of survivors of trafficking to light.
Dr. Murphy has a background in English literature as well as African and African American studies. Her transition into the world of anti-trafficking can be traced back to her PhD in African and African American studies. Dr. Murphy had been studying African depictions of the transatlantic slave trade. In the midst of her work, she began to learn about contemporary forms of slavery. In fact, upon reading an article from the New York Times comparing trafficking today to the transatlantic slave trade, Dr. Murphy was forced to question what modern day slavery really looked like. She said “I realized I could not keep working on historical slavery when there were people who were forced laborers today.” This new revelation guided her towards research and work in the field of forced labor and trafficking.
An educator to her core, Dr. Murphy finds her vocation in teaching both her students and the community via her research about forced labor and trafficking. Naturally she has taken the role of sharing her passion and knowledge with her students. Her work as an educator is fueled by hope. In fact upon reflection, Dr. Murphy sees her passion for education as a declaration of hope for the future, “My job as an educator is bound up in hope. The day you stop having optimism about humans is the day you have to stop being an educator.”
Yet sometimes, hope can feel faded when work in the anti-trafficking field is overwhelming. Dr. Murphy explains, “It is easy to convince yourself that you don’t deserve a break or fun or joy, but those who are being harmed do not wish us harm. Working ourselves into the ground or the hospital benefits no one.” When it comes to selfcare at work, Dr. Murphy finds great importance in taking long walks with her dog (which she advises every researcher to try). With honesty and compassion she encourages her students to understand that work is not everything and it is okay to rest. She reminds them that they cannot do good work if they are not taking care of themselves, whether that be dancing in the streets or playing with their dog.
Dr. Murphy is currently working on creating large data sets on the forced labor of the Uyghur populations in the north-western region of Xinjiang. Her goal is to create a data set so comprehensive that companies, governments and consumers cannot be ignorant to the origins of their products. Dr. Murphy and her team are building a team of academics who are working to build up this data. She looks forward to watching her team grow. Her work is critical to bringing forth change for those in the Xinjiang region. Dr. Murphy has produced research and writings that have helped many to understand the realities of trafficking. Her work springs from a love for education and a passion for fighting for justice. She is one of the many brilliant stories behind the research that drives the fight against human trafficking. For more information about Dr. Murphy’s research and career visit researchgate and the Sheffield Hallam University’s webpage.
Have you ever traded sex for money or drugs?’ Health care providers’ perspectives on sex trafficking risk assessments in clinics
Lara Gerassi & Anna Pederson
Objective The United States’ Institute of Medicine recommends that health care providers be aware of sex trafficking (ST) indicators and conduct risk assessments to identify people at risk. However, the challenges among those who conduct such assessments remain largely understudied. The aim of this study was to understand the perceived barriers to ST risk assessment among health care providers in a large health care organization. Methods This study used a collective case study approach in five sites of a large health care organization that serves high-risk populations in a Midwestern state. Twenty-three in-depth, semi-structured interviews were conducted with health care staff (e.g. medical assistants, nurse practitioners). Two research team members conducted independent deductive coding (e.g. knowledge of ST), and inductive coding to analyse emerging themes (e.g. responses to ST risk or commercial sex disclosures, provider role ambiguity). Results Although staff routinely screened by asking ‘Have you ever traded sex for money or drugs?’, participants primarily described avoiding further discussions of ST with adult patients because they (1) aimed to be non-judgmental, (2) viewed following up as someone else’s job, and/or (3) lacked confidence to address ST concerns themselves, particularly when differentiating sex work from ST. Differences all emerged based on clinical context (e.g. urban location). Conclusions There may be missed opportunities to assess patients for ST risk and use harm-reduction strategies or safety plan to address patients’ needs. Implications for practice, policy, and future research are discussed.
This research is available here
Gerassi, Lara & Pederson, Anna. (2021). ‘Have you ever traded sex for money or drugs?’ Health care providers’ perspectives on sex trafficking risk assessments in clinics. Journal of Health Services Research & Policy. 135581962199747. 10.1177/1355819621997478
Transgender People and Human Trafficking: Intersectional Exclusion of Transgender Migrants and People of Color from Anti-trafficking Protection in the United States
Anne E. Fehrenbacher, Jennifer Musto, Heidi Hoefinger, Nicola Mai, P.G. Macioti, Calogero Giametta & Calum Bennachie
Transgender (hereafter: trans) people are rarely included in human trafficking research. This empirical study presents narratives of trans individuals who report experiences consistent with the Palermo Protocol’s definition of trafficking, access to anti-trafficking services for trans individuals, and attitudes of anti-trafficking advocates and law enforcement toward trans people. Ethnographic fieldwork conducted for 30 months between March 2017 and August 2019 in Los Angeles and New York City included in-depth interviews with sex workers and trafficked persons (n = 50), of whom 26 were trans, and key informants (n = 17) from law enforcement and social services. Most trans participants who reported exploitation did not self-identify as victims of trafficking nor were they identified by police or anti-trafficking organizations as victims. Law enforcement gatekeeping was identified by anti-trafficking advocates as a barrier to meeting the needs of trans clients because they were viewed as “less exploitable” than cisgender women. Discriminatory law enforcement practices resulted in the exclusion and hyper-criminalization of trans migrants and people of color who were profiled not only by gender, but also race/ethnicity and immigration status.
This research is available here
Anne E. Fehrenbacher, Jennifer Musto, Heidi Hoefinger, Nicola Mai, P.G. Macioti, Calogero Giametta & Calum Bennachie (2020) Transgender People and Human Trafficking: Intersectional Exclusion of Transgender Migrants and People of Color from Anti-trafficking Protection in the United States, Journal of Human Trafficking, 6:2, 182-194, DOI: 10.1080/23322705.2020.1690116
Assets and Logic: Proposing an Evidenced-based Strategic Partnership Model for Anti-trafficking Response
Kathleen M. Preble, Andrea Nichols & Megan Owens
Since knowledge about human trafficking has increased over the last 20 years, so have our understandings about interventions, survivor empowerment, and attention to intersectional forces that lead to trafficking vulnerability and exiting barriers experienced by survivors. An area lacking in such advancement, however, relates to collaborative community responses (CCRs), which have notably increased evidenced-based, effective responses in other public health and health equity responses. CCRs have been part of US-based anti trafficking efforts since the passage of the U.S. TVPA, but very little research has examined their effectiveness or how to standardize a unified collaborative effort in multidisciplinary anti trafficking teams around common goals. The proposed model utilizes health equity techniques to map existing community resources that could potentially respond to identified needs. Using logic models, the proposed process allows for interdisciplinary teams to systematically plan a response using the identified assets in their community to achieve a common ultimate goal and improve the response to human trafficking. Research, practice and policy implications are discussed.
This research is available here
Kathleen M. Preble, Andrea Nichols & Megan Owens (2021) Assets and Logic: Proposing an Evidenced-based Strategic Partnership Model for Anti-trafficking Response, Journal of Human Trafficking, DOI: 10.1080/23322705.2021.1899525
Empirical Analysis of the US State Department’s Annual Trafficking in Persons Report – Insights for Policy-Makers
Gregory E. van der Vink, Katherine N. Carlson, Jeffrey Park, Sabrina H. Szeto, Xinrei Zhang, Michael E. Jackson & Erica Phillips
The State Department’s annual Trafficking in Persons (TIP) Report is the U.S. Government’s principal diplomatic tool to engage foreign governments on human trafficking. Each year, the report evaluates efforts to counter human trafficking, assigning each country to a tier level. We evaluate the relative role of various factors predictive of tier-level assignments, including (a) legislated changes to the ranking system, (b) party to the Palermo Protocol, (c) reported numbers of convictions, prosecutions, and identified victims, (d) independent estimates of prevalence, and (e) sample indicators of governance and economic development. We use singular-value decomposition to identify the relative influence among multiple inter-related factors across a matrix of tier rankings for twelve years and 189 nations. Our analysis indicates that investments in democratic institutions and individual rights may be significantly more influential than law enforcement, and the traditional economic theory for TIP vulnerability may be an oversimplification. Most significantly, the large number of attributes with small but statistically significant correlations with TIP tier levels confirms that TIP has many causal relationships. We affirm the need for Countering TIP (CTIP) strategies to apply an ecosystem approach with geographically targeted interventions consistent with Situational Crime Prevention.
This research is available here
Gregory E. van der Vink, Katherine N. Carlson, Jeffrey Park, Sabrina H. Szeto, Xinrei Zhang, Michael E. Jackson & Erica Phillips (2021) Empirical Analysis of the US State Department’s Annual Trafficking in Persons Report – Insights for Policy-Makers, Journal of Human Trafficking, DOI: 10.1080/23322705.2021.1897759