2023 Commencement

May 12, 2023 - Ceremony for Class of 2023 PhD, DSW, MSW and MSN

Apply Now - Master of Social Work

Fall 2023 Deadline: Full-Time - April 3

Kristen Zaleski

Founding Director, USC SDP-Keck Human Rights Clinic

Research and clinical focus on trauma survivors and survivors of human rights abuse.

Media Contact
Kristen Zaleski

Kristen Zaleski

Founding Director, USC SDP-Keck Human Rights Clinic

Research and clinical focus on trauma survivors and survivors of human rights abuse.

Media Contact


Dr. Kristen Zaleski is a professor, psychotherapist, and researcher of sexual violence in both civilian and military settings. Her current research interests include technology facilitated sexual violence, gender based violence and its connection to human rights within American society, and clinical treatments of trauma in the therapy room.
She is a topic expert on sexual violence in American society, PTSD and stress response, interpersonal neurobiology, and modern day attachment theory. Dr. Zaleski's work and research experience makes her a unique authority on the micro influences of trauma on the psychological, physical, and spiritual health of an individual.
Dr. Zaleski's first book, Understanding and Treating Military Sexual Trauma, is currently in its 2nd edition and is the first social work text on the topic. In November 2019, Oxford University Press published her second book, Women's Journey to Empowerment in the 21st Century, on the topic of transnational feminism and global violence.
Dr. Zaleski is active in the clinical community of Los Angeles, often consulting or providing education to trauma providers across Southern California, and is nationally recognized for her work on sexual violence both in military communities and online. She is on the advisory board on the Center for Law and Military Policy and is the founding director of the USC SDP-Keck Human Rights Clinic, a collaboration between Keck School of Medicine of USC and the Suzanne Dworak-Peck School of Social Work, providing psychological evaluations for immigrants seeking asylum in the United States.
To reference the work of Kristen Zaleski online, we ask that you directly quote their work where possible and attribute it to "Kristen Zaleski , a faculty at the USC Suzanne Dworak-Peck School of Social Work” (LINK: https://dworakpeck.usc.edu)



The Sanville Institute for Clinical Social Work

Ph.D. 2013

University of Southern California

M.S.W. 2004

University of California, Los Angeles

B.A. 2001

Santa Barbara City College

A.A. 1999

Area of Expertise

  • Neurobiology
  • Empathy
  • Post Traumatic Stress Disorder
  • Sexual Assault
  • Psychotherapy
  • Mothering

Industry Experience

  • Mental Health Care
  • Training and Development
  • Health Care - Providers
  • Health and Wellness
  • Health Care - Services
  • Education/Learning

Research Interest

  • Health
  • Mental Health
  • Military Social Work


Hutto Patterson Foundation Award for Distinguished Faculty
USC Suzanne Dworak-Peck School of Social Work
Featured Author
Los Angeles Times Festival of Books
Bonnie Bearson Scholarship Fund
Sanville Institute
Graduation Speaker
University of Southern California

Articles & Publications

Women’s Journey to Empowerment in the 21st Century: A Transnational Approach. | Oxford University Press

Zaleski, K., Enrile, A., Weiss, E., & Wang, X.
Women's Journey to Empowerment in the 21st Century offers a global view into the patriarchal attitudes that shape cultural practices that oppress women and continue to take form in the modern era. In closely examining a range of issues--from the college campus rape epidemic in the United States to the climate change effects in Ghana--this book compels readers to utilize a contextual framework in order to take a closer look into contemporary violence and oppression against women in our world. Written through the lens of transnational feminism, it examines the intersections of nationhood, race, gender, sexuality, and economics within the context of a world shaped by globalization and colonialism, causing the redefinition of borders and the realignment of migration patterns. A transnational feminist perspective also supports a definition of global sisterhood based on equity, understanding, and mutual experiences. Students focusing on social justice, social work, women's studies, feminist theory, and/or violence against women will find the book to be an invaluable resource.


2nd Edition Understanding and Treating Military Sexual Trauma. | Springer

Zaleski, K.
2nd Edition Understanding and Treating Military Sexual Trauma.


Posting the story of your sexual assault online: a phenomenological study of the aftermath | Feminist Media Studies

Gundersen, K.K. & Zaleski, K.L.
Silence and shame often surround incidents of sexual violence. As technology and social media spawn movements for survivors to speak about their experiences, it is unknown if public online disclosures are aiding or hindering sexual assault recovery. This study explored the experiences of survivors of sexual violence who utilized social media to publicly disclose surviving sexual assault (n = 20). Qualitative interviews explored survivors’ motivations and overall experiences of self-disclosing their sexual assault via social media. A thematic, open-coded analysis was conducted using NVivo qualitative data analysis software. Four major themes emerged from the data: “I didn’t want to be silenced anymore,” “I named myself a resource,” “The fence begins to have holes in it once you disclose,” and “Disclosing myself was a form of renewal.” The findings elucidate how the majority of participants experienced a positive benefit from disclosing publicly, with two notable exceptions of negative experiences. The findings support further research into this phenomenon to discern whether disclosing one’s story of sexual assault via social media can be seen as an avenue for positive coping and facilitate further resolution after a sexual trauma, specifically regarding a sense of empowerment and a sense of contributing to a larger online narrative of survivors.


The Lived Experience of Child Marriage in the United States. | Social Work in Public Health

Wahi, A., Zaleski, K.L, Lampe, J., Bevan, P., & Koski, A.
Despite international and domestic calls to end child marriage, 48 U.S. states permit the marriage of minors younger than age 18 as of August 2018. In developing nations, child marriage is associated with a wide range of adverse economic, health, and mental health outcomes, yet little research has been done to understand its effects on developed nations such as the United States. This study is the first to interview adults who were married as children in the United States, to investigate the reasons why the marriages occurred, and qualitatively understand the experiences of married American children. 21 participants (20 females and 1 male) self-selected into this study to complete an online questionnaire and be interviewed by phone. Participants were married between ages 13 and 17. Most participants (n = 18) reported physical, sexual, financial, or emotional abuse during their marriage as well as unwanted and/or unplanned pregnancies. This study shows some important social justice issues related to consent and the qualitative differences inherent in deciding to marry during childhood. Notably, this study did not find that pregnancy was the reason most participants married as minors, as some policy debates across the U.S. report.


Grounding Judith Herman’s Trauma Theory within Interpersonal Neuroscience and Evidence-Based Practice Modalities for Trauma Treatment | Smith College Studies in Social Work

Kristen L. Zaleski, Daniel K. Johnson, Jessica T. Klein
2016 In 1992, Judith Herman published her seminal work, Trauma and Recovery, which outlined new concepts for understanding, defining, and treating posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD). Although written over two decades ago, Herman’s work is still considered an essential work in the field of traumatology. This article links Herman’s central concepts of terror, hyperarousal, constriction, and intrusion with neurobiology of trauma.


Exploring rape culture in social media forums | Computers in Human Behavior

Kristen L.Zaleski, Kristin K. Gundersen, Jessica Baes, Ely Estupinian, Alyssa Vergara
2016 Current research has yet to examine the phenomenon of rape culture, particularly within social media forums. The present study investigated the attitudes about rape, rapists, and gender-based violence within the comments section of newspaper articles reporting about rape and sexual assault.


Empathy in Social Work Education | Contemporary Behavioral Health Care

Kristen L. Zaleski, Juan Carlos Araque, Kimberly Finney, Bianca Harper, Jennifer Lewis, Michal Sela Amit, Caroline Tamas, Jennifer McCrea Steele, and Jessica Castronuo
2016 Empathy is at the core of the provider-consumer relationship in social work; without it, successful outcomes for psychological treatment are unlikely (APA Presidential Task Force, 2005). The use of empathy is considered an essential part of the professional encounter and a standard in providing ethical care. Therefore it is expected and assumed that the mental health practitioner possesses the ability to be empathetic and that s/he is capable of providing empathetic social work services to clients who are experiencing physical, psychological, and/or emotional pain.


Alice in Wonderland: Exploring the Experiences of Female Service Members With a Pregnancy Resulting From Rape | Social Work in Mental Health

Kristen L. Zaleski, Lori S. Katz
2013 Currently, no clinical research has ever been conducted to examine what, if any, traumatic effects take place when pregnancy results from a sexual assault during military service. The present study investigated the emotional experience and impact of rape and pregnancy on women serving in the military.