Project: How Do Traumatic Events Shape the Decision-Making of LGBTQ Youth in NYC to Engage in the Commercial Sex Market?


This project has implications for practice. Findings have the potential to highlight the traumatic events that may contribute to sexual and gender minority youths’ decisions to engage in survival sex. In addition, the findings may help demonstrate why it is important for mental health practitioners, law enforcement professionals, and community programs to use trauma-informed approaches when interacting with these youths.



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Associated faculty

Principal Investigator. Edward Alessi

Dr. Alessi is an associate professor in the School of Social Work. His research aims to improve understanding of stress and trauma among lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) populations and enhance clinical practice with LGBT and other marginalized populations. In June 2017, he was named Rutgers Chancellor’s Scholar, an award created to support faculty excellence at the Associate Professor level. His research has been published in journals such as Psychological TraumaChild Abuse & NeglectPsychotherapy, Psychotherapy Research, and The Journal of Sex Research. Dr. Alessi’s current projects examine how stress and trauma influence the integration experiences of LGBT immigrants, asylum seekers, and refugees in the United States, Canada, and Europe. He served as guest editor for the Clinical Social Work Journal’s first special issue on Clinical Practice with LGBTQ Populations. Dr. Alessi has also been recognized for his teaching. He was awarded the Rutgers University Presidential Fellowship for Teaching Excellence in 2017. In addition, he received the Outstanding Professor of the Year Award four years in a row (2013-16). A clinical social worker since 2001, he has worked primarily in outpatient mental health and has been an independent practitioner since 2004.


Co-Principal Investigator. Meredith Dank

Meredith Dank is a Research Professor at John Jay College of Criminal Justice. Her areas of focus include the commercial sex economy, human trafficking, teen dating violence, LGBTQ issues, victimization, and qualitative methods. She served as principal investigator on several human trafficking studies funded by the Department of Justice, including a study that measured the underground commercial sex economy in the United States, and another that documented the experiences of LGBTQ youth, young men who have sex with men and young women who have sex with women engaged in survival sex and their interactions with the criminal justice system. An expert in human trafficking, Dr. Dank has conducted research in over ten countries and took part in a White House stakeholder meeting on services for survivors. Her work particularly in TDV, working with LGBTQ youth, and research methodologies for accessing difficult-to-reach populations will offer key expertise for the Consortium.


Associated faculty

Primary Investigator, Laura Johnson, PhD, Rutgers University

Laura Johnson is an Assistant Research Professor at the Center on Violence Against Women and Children at the Rutgers School of Social Work. Her research interests include coordinated community responses to violence against women, with a focus on the criminal justice system, and program evaluation. Her dissertation examined the effectiveness of a financial literacy intervention on intimate partner violence survivors’ financial empowerment over time. Laura also sits on the New Jersey Child Fatality & Near Fatality Review Board Northern Regional Community-Based Team

Co-Primary Investigator Amanda Stylianou, PhD, Safe Horizon

Amanda M. Stylianou, is a social worker who focuses her career on improving services at the intersection of trauma, mental health and poverty. In her role as Associate Vice President of Quality and Program Development at Safe Horizon, the nation's leading victim services agency, she works with her team to ensure the organization is providing the most effective and efficient services to clients throughout NYC. Her current research focuses on understanding the needs of victims/survivors of domestic violence and human trafficking and on understanding and evaluating practices in the field. In addition to her work at Safe Horizon, Dr. Stylianou teaches in the MSW program at Rutgers University and offers several CEU trainings throughout New Jersey with Rutgers University's Institute for Families. Dr. Stylianou has published in a variety of journals including Social Work, the Journal of Interpersonal Violence, Violence against Women, Violence and Victims, Affilia and Children and Youth Services Review.