Written by: Elena Santana, Crisis Advocate and A.J. Haynes, Linkage Liaison

Embracing Pronoun Awareness: A Vital Step in Support

In our journey towards fostering a more inclusive and compassionate culture, it is crucial to recognize and understand misgendering. Misgendering occurs when individuals are referred to or addressed using pronouns or gender markers that do not align with their gender identity. This seemingly small act can have significant effects on the individual, including emotional distress and perpetuates discrimination and marginalization. 

The emotional impact of misgendering cannot be overstated. It can contribute to a range of negative outcomes, including stress, anxiety, and depression. Individuals who experience frequent misgendering may also live with thoughts worthlessness, as they struggle to navigate a world that fails to acknowledge their existence.

At its core, misgendering can feel like a person’s identity is not valid. Whether intentional or not, it undermines an individual's sense of self and can lead to feelings of insecurity and impact their quality of life.

For transgender and non-binary individuals, being consistently misgendered can make existing struggles with acceptance and validation worse. Especially in healthcare, around 33% of trans people do not go to primary care clinics when they have health issues because they feel uncomfortable, and 48 % of them have felt discriminant or inadequate behaviors from the healthcare professional at some point. 

At SACASA, we strive to reduce the barriers and negative attitudes around mental and physical healthcare.

Here are some recommendations on how to foster a more inclusive and compassionate environment:

  • Provide a Safe Space: Creating an environment where everyone feels respected and valued is essential. By fostering an atmosphere of inclusivity and acceptance, we can encourage individuals to express their true selves without fear of judgment or discrimination.
  • Ask About Pronouns Respectfully: Instead of assuming someone's gender identity based on appearance or assumptions, it's important to ask about pronouns in a respectful manner. Simple questions like "What pronouns do you use?" or "How would you like to be addressed?" demonstrate a willingness to honor an individual's identity.
  • Use Gender-Neutral Language: Using gender-neutral language in our everyday interactions can help to avoid inadvertently misgendering someone. Using terms like "they/them" or using the person's name instead of pronouns can promote inclusivity and respect. By taking these steps, we can work towards building a more empathetic and understanding community where everyone's identity is acknowledged and affirmed.

Let's strive to create spaces where misgendering is not tolerated, and where all individuals can feel seen, heard, and respected for who they truly are.

Research Sources:

Image link: https://media.wltx.com/assets/CCT/images/58759f39-0af8-43bb-ba58-235cc3f8db62/58759f39-0af8-43bb-ba58-235cc3f8db62_1140x641.jpeg

Image Source: News 19 WLTX, COLUMBIA, SC


The Southern Arizona Center Against Sexual Assault (SACASA) proudly announces that Julie Konvalinka, RN, SANE-A, Senior Sexual Assault Nurse Examiner (SANE), has been recognized as a Fab 50 Nurse in Tucson for her outstanding contributions to the field of nursing and her exceptional leadership in providing care for survivors of sexual assault and intimate partner violence (IPV).

For Julie, becoming a nurse was a dream since childhood. Now, with nearly two decades of experience at the frontline of healing, her journey as a nurse has been a testament to her resilience and passion. From balancing the roles of a single mother to the demanding nature of emergency care, her purpose remains unwavering: to bring comfort and aid to those in need.

Her dedication extends beyond patient care; she actively mentors both new and experienced SANEs, ensuring they acquire the necessary skills to deliver compassionate care. Her leadership has led to significant improvements in the acute care of survivors of sexual assault and IPV, including enhancements in the Medical Forensic Examination (MFE) process and the expansion of SANE services in the community.

In addition to her role at SACASA, Julie plays a pivotal role in educating nurses regionally as a guest trainer for the UArizona SANE Program. She is actively engaged in professional organizations such as the Arizona Chapter of the International Association of Forensic Nurses, advocating for policy changes to improve the post-assault experiences of survivors and enhance the profession's exposure.

Julie envisions a world where all survivors of violent victimization receive the support and care they need, and she tirelessly works towards this goal through her leadership.

"We are thrilled to see Julie recognized as a Fab 50 Nurse," said SACASA Director Katyln Monje, LMSW, BHP. “As a skilled SANE and former paramedic, she has witnessed firsthand the consequences of violence and trauma and is dedicated to being a voice and source of support and warmth for these particularly vulnerable and often marginalized patients. We are so grateful to have her serving our Southern Arizona community.”

“This recognition comes as a surprise,” said Julie. “I work without expectation of recognition. In a town with so many qualified nurses doing influential work, I am beyond grateful to be acknowledged for my contributions.”

Hosted by the Tucson Nurses Week Foundation, this award celebrates excellence among Tucson’s nursing professionals. Chosen by their peers from across Tucson, the Fabulous 50 nurses stand out for their exemplary role to both the community and the nursing profession. Learn more>>

A helpful guide to navigating the season, with healthy boundaries in mind

Written by: Summer Berry, SACASA Therapist

For many, the holiday season is an exciting and comforting time of year. As the air chills and days grow shorter, many find themselves nestling in with cozy garments and hunkering down with comfort foods. Many look forward to spending time with loved ones, enjoying breaks from the every day hustle and bustle, and celebrating the spirit of the holidays.

While all of this sounds great, the holidays can also be incredibly isolating and overwhelming for folks. It’s very common to experience increased anxiety, depression, and grief during the ‘’most wonderful time of year’’ for a multitude of reasons. If the latter resonates with you, just know it’s totally normal and I’VE GOT YOU!

I’ve devised a list of quick and simple tips to increase self-care, maintain healthy boundaries, and make your holiday season a bit more merry and bright.  

Respect your limits
The holidays can bring joyous occasions, full of celebrations, gift-giving and connection with others. Regretfully, that merriment often comes with extra errands, a lot of behind-the-scenes work, and additional obligations. The key to having more ‘’dazzle’’ and less ‘’frazzle’’ in winter is to set healthy boundaries around how much time, energy and effort you'll commit to bringing the cheer. From shopping to attending festivities, make reasonable plans that include breaks as you march down those to-do lists. Know that you don’t have to attend every holiday invite. Most people understand the holidays can be a bit hectic. Sending a warm message or making a brief call to decline will do just fine.

Keep up with healthy habits
Traveling, hosting guests, coordinating gatherings and finding gifts can really throw a wrench in the works. A key to wellness is making sure you are taking care of YOUR needs during the season of giving. If going to the gym, meditating, journaling or attending therapy are parts of your self-care routine, make sure to keep up with them over the holidays. If you’re planning to go out of town, see if your gym has a location there or meet with your therapist virtually. It can be really tempting to break habits and let loose with increases in free time over the holidays. Just remember how difficult it is to get back into healthy routines when you slip out of them. Taking a break from routines can also lead you down the slippery slope of bad habits. Making a list of non-negotiable habits, like sticking to your regular bedtime, will help you stay on track.

Acknowledge your feelings
With the holidays, come expectations to feel jolly and merry. The truth is, holidays can bring a mixed bag of feelings for most. Are you grieving or missing a loved one? Do you have anxiety about spending time with a difficult family member? Are financial concerns weighing on you? It’s important for you to be aware of complex emotions that come up this season and accept them without judgment.

The greatest gift you can give yourself is the gift of compassion
If journaling is a regular coping practice for you, be sure to keep up with it over the holidays. If not, try writing about how you feel when difficult emotions arise. It can be a great way to process emotions in a safe and judgment-free space. It can also be helpful to talk about difficult feelings with someone you trust. Make time to talk through your emotions with a friend, therapist, sponsor or coach.  

Honor your wishes
Although the winter holidays bring warm sentiments like ‘’peace on earth’’ and ‘’goodwill toward all’’, they can also bring pressure, expectations and unhealthy comparisons that lead to a lot of mental anguish. To avoid the pitfalls of such internal conflict, ask yourself what is most important to you during the holidays. What do you want to do? Who do you want to be with? How do you want to spend your time? What is needed to support these wishes? Is there anything getting in the way of fulfilling those wishes? Having clarity about your priorities will help you focus on what matters to you most. It will also help you set healthy boundaries with others and enable you to make decisions that respect YOU, which is the ultimate form of self-care. 

Check in and give yourself a break
This one is pretty cut-and-dry. Although it is the simplest tip to describe, it can sometimes be the toughest to follow. During the season of giving, it’s easy to kick your giving mode into high gear, leading to some unhealthy sacrifices and poor self-care. Just because the holidays are full of festivities, doesn’t mean you have to burn the candle at both ends. The key to having truly ‘’happy holidays’’ is to respect yourself and take care of yourself.

No one can love you better than you
So, keep a pulse on your energy levels, emotions and thoughts. When overwhelm, loneliness, dread and other difficult emotions rise, take a beat to listen to what they are telling you. Give yourself a break to tend to those feelings and soothe them. When feeling lonely or experiencing geographical distance from loved ones, connect with others in your community through volunteer work. If feeling physically exhausted, take a break from socializing to cozy up at home and recharge. If feeling dread or questioning the meaning of the holidays, make time to engage in something that is truly fulfilling or satisfying to you.    

The unique whirl of emotions, expectations, and challenges surrounding the holidays are enough to cloud even Rudolph’s lens. So, keep a healthy perspective on maintaining mental wellness by leaning into self-care and setting healthy boundaries this holiday season.   

Lauren Acosta, Ph.D., RN, SANE-A is a dedicated forensic sexual assault nurse examiner (SANE) with a passion for supporting survivors of sexual assault as they begin their paths to healing.

Lauren Acosta, Ph.D., RN, SANE-A

With extensive training in nursing, Lauren has made a significant impact in the field as an educator and mentor focused on post-sexual assault experiences for marginalized communities. As a SANE, Lauren possesses additional and specific training within her nursing specialty.

“Forensic nurses take care of patients at the intersection of the legal system and the health care system,” said Lauren.

“When someone discloses that they’ve experienced a sexual assault and would like specialized care, a SACASA advocate dispatches us and we go in and take care of the patient by conducting a comprehensive and holistic exam,” she said.

The medical forensic exam is entirely optional but can be helpful in starting the healing process, identifying health needs, and is also how evidence is collected. The average exam takes between one to two hours and is offered out of Banner- University Medical Center and Tucson Medical Center hospitals. Lauren documents injuries, helps to ensure that survivors receive appropriate care and that vital evidence is collected and preserved for potential legal proceedings (should a survivor choose to pursue that option). These exams are offered at no cost to the patient.

Lauren documents injuries, helps to ensure that survivors receive appropriate care and that vital evidence is collected and preserved for potential legal proceedings (should a survivor choose to pursue that option).

“We will examine the body systems but also look for injuries and evidence to pay close attention to as we proceed head to toe,” she said.

Lauren is part of a team of 14 sexual assault nurses who work around the clock to care for the community.

“We offer survivors a sense of support during an incredibly difficult time in their lives… We are the first step in their healing process.”

“The health care system can be overwhelming, and we are that warm, caring person needed in that moment that takes them out of the chaos where we are focused just on them and on their needs,” she said.

Medical forensic exams require exceptional attention to detail, and they are just one piece of a collaborative process to support survivors.

SANEs work alongside other agencies and the legal system by ensuring the proper handling of evidence, providing detailed documentation and expert testimony in court and work closely with SACASA advocates to ensure a coordinated response to sexual assault cases.

“I think we are part of the transition from this life-changing event that just happened to let me help you start to heal. Let me be that bridge that you need.”

Lauren also serves as a faculty member at the University of Arizona which allows her to engage in community outreach, bridging the gap between her work as a SANE and the wider community.
When asked about how the community and systems can better support survivors, Lauren stresses the need to reduce barriers to care, not only within the hospital systems, but also within the communities themselves. She advocates for more awareness and referrals to community resources, reducing the stigma surrounding sexual assault, and creating an environment where survivors can safely disclose their experiences.

Lauren's inspiration to continue this important work comes from the camaraderie with her dedicated team and the profound impact she has on survivors' lives. She cherishes the moments when survivors and their families express their gratitude for her care and support, reminding her of the positive difference she is making.

Lauren's commitment to the field of forensic nursing makes her an invaluable asset in helping survivors on their path to healing.

“Words cannot describe how grateful I am that Lauren has chosen SANE work as a part of her career path, as she has undoubtedly been a driving force for recovery for many survivors. The compassion, advocacy and mentorship that she contributes to the SACASA team are immeasurable, and I am so proud to celebrate her during National Forensic Nurses Week,” said SACASA Director Katlyn Monje.

At SACASA, we're fortunate to have a team of compassionate individuals dedicated to supporting survivors during difficult times.

Summer B., MAC, LPC, BHP has been a member of our team for two years. Summer's background and expertise in trauma therapy, combined with her passion for helping survivors, have made her invaluable to SACASA.

Background and Journey:
Summer's journey into her current role as a therapist is rooted in a decades-long history of helping others.

From a young age, she stood out as a great listener, often being the go-to for friends seeking support. She honed her skills as a youth peer mediator and even participated in elementary school puppet shows to address big feelings for young children like anger, fear and sadness. This was the start of Summer’s early passion for empathy and support for others.

“For the first 14 years of my life, I was the only child around many adults in my family. I was always a person that other children would come to share their problems with,” said Summer.
Summer’s compassion and empathy led her to pursue a bachelor's in psychology with a focus on chemical dependency counseling. She then continued her education with a master's in counseling.

Summer's path eventually led her to CODAC, where she found her true calling – trauma-informed therapy.

“I quickly learned that there is a huge link between trauma and substance use. Understanding the unique complexities and experiences as a survivor of trauma leads to our creative approaches to healing,” she shared.

A Glimpse into Summer’s Day to Day:
A typical day in Summer's role involves providing individual, couples and family therapy, as well as facilitating group therapy sessions. She conducts between six to eight sessions daily and focuses on trauma-informed care. Her group therapy sessions address the intersection between trauma and substance use, offering support for those struggling with harmful coping habits after experiencing a traumatic event, such as sexual violence.

Summer also dedicates time to working with adolescents through programs like "From Pieces to Peace” to ensure that teens receive the trauma-informed care they need.

Contributing to Positive Change:
One of Summer's most meaningful experiences involved work with a survivor who had previously struggled to make progress. Watching this woman transform into a healthy, inspired advocate for others motivates Summer because she sees the positive impact that therapy can have on those who once felt helpless and hopeless.

”The work that we do in this field is very rewarding. We get to see these wonderful transformations where people are thriving in a way that they may not have been able to before,” she said.

Summer recognizes how unique her role is within the community. Her dedication is driven by a desire to increase awareness, advocacy and healing.

She has come to understand that every behavior has a reason, which helps her provide effective support.
“Working in this field has helped me to understand the humanity of people. I feel great to be part of that.”

Addressing Misconceptions:
Summer is passionate about addressing misconceptions surrounding her field. She emphasizes the need to shift away from victim-blaming and, instead, focus on empowering survivors. Understanding the true nature of sexual assault as an issue of power and control is vital.

“Sexual assault is about an opportunity to exploit vulnerability and gain power. It is not about lust.”

Finding the right balance at work:
Professionally, Summer aims to continue her work, benefiting from the supportive environment within SACASA. She values the emphasis placed on self-care and personal development and believes that mentorship and teamwork are essential for success in this challenging field.

“The reason why I stay here is because I have never felt so supported and validated in my career,” said Summer.

“The culture is very supportive and is all about career and personal development. The theme of humanity: We are all human beings doing incredible - and difficult - work.”

Advice for Aspiring Therapists:
Summer advises future therapists to undergo their own therapy to better understand the client's perspective. She also shares the importance of maintaining a healthy work-life balance to avoid burnout.

Life Outside of Work:
Outside of work, Summer enjoys spending quality time with her husband and children, exploring parks, and disconnecting. This balance contributes to her well-being and allows her to recharge.
Summer’s work is not just a career but a heartfelt mission to help survivors heal and thrive.

In this month's staff spotlight, we are delighted to introduce a remarkable member of our team, who has been making an impact through her role as a volunteer crisis advocate: Karen R.

With a compassionate heart, she is dedicated to supporting people in times of need. She embodies the essence of SACASA’s mission to support and uplift our community during vulnerable times.

Karen’s Journey into Crisis Advocacy:
Shortly after completing her master's degree in social work, Karen was driven by a desire to continue making a positive impact beyond her clinical role. She learned of the opportunity to volunteer at SACASA from her colleague, SACASA’s Director Katlyn Monje. Karen was inspired by the possibility of using her counseling skills to support individuals in crisis. She has now been a volunteer crisis advocate for three years.

The Responsibilities of a Crisis Advocate:
As a crisis advocate, Karen has a complex role. She provides support and crisis intervention to anyone who has been sexually assaulted or has been affected by sexual violence. Crisis Advocate volunteers provide crisis intervention, advocacy, information and referrals for victims of sexual assault and domestic violence. Their support looks different for the individualized needs of the person they are supporting, but can include medical and safety planning, understanding victims’ rights, navigating complex emotions, and finding ways to regain power and control as they move forward with healing.

Challenges and Motivations:
While Karen finds fulfillment in her role, it is not without its challenges. The emotional toll of working with individuals in crisis can be draining. However, she is motivated by the need for crisis advocates and the impact they can make in people's lives.

"I see how important this work is," said Karen.

Monthly advocate meetings provide her with the opportunity to collaborate with fellow advocates, find support, share insights and continually improve her approach.

Advice for Aspiring Crisis Advocates:
For those considering joining the ranks of crisis advocates, Karen offers valuable advice.

“I encourage prospective volunteers to engage with staff, ask questions and attend training sessions,” said Karen.

Aspiring advocates can shadow team members to gain firsthand experience and a better understanding of this unique and important role.

“You will always have support from SACASA’s team and will be made comfortable before you are on your own answering calls.”

Balancing Compassion and Self-Care:
To maintain her emotional health, Karen emphasizes the importance of balance. She finds peace in the outdoors, particularly enjoying activities like kayaking and spending time with her puppy, Ziva. Her involvement in church activities, including singing in the choir, also brings her community and joy.

“I have to remember to take time for play.”

Bridging Bias and Misconceptions:
Since beginning her role at SACASA, Karen has noticed common societal biases towards sexual assault survivors that show up in her own life. Her new knowledge helps her to check her own biases and educate family and friends to reduce the blame and shame placed on survivors.

Another misconception Karen addresses is that survivors must consent to exams based on doctors' orders. She highlights that survivors have the right to make decisions about their own health care. And, she educates hospital staff on the importance of allowing individuals to make choices that best suit their individual needs and comfort level (in non-emergency situations).

A Final Note:
Karen’s dedication and unwavering commitment to supporting those in crisis is truly commendable. Her selflessness and eagerness to assist at any hour demonstrate the essence of the volunteer crisis advocate role. We extend our heartfelt gratitude to Karen for her contributions to our community.

“Karen’s compassion and genuine drive to help others is so apparent in the work she does. We are so fortunate to have her contributing her skillset to this team and the SACASA mission," said Katlyn Monje, SACASA's director.

If you are interested in joining our team of dedicated crisis advocates or learning more about the impact they make, feel free to reach out to SACASA at info@codac.org. Together, we can continue to create a safer, more supportive community for people impacted by sexual violence.

Tucson, AZ – July 5, 2023 – The Southern Arizona Center Against Sexual Assault (SACASA) is pleased to announce a new partnership with Buffalo Exchange, a leading fashion retailer known for its commitment to sustainability and community engagement.

This collaboration aims to provide support and resources to survivors of sexual assault in the Southern Arizona community through the Buffalo Exchange Tokens for Bags® program.

Instead of giving out bags, customers have the opportunity to donate the cost of the bag to SACASA.

The program has generated over $926,000 for thousands of local nonprofit organizations since 1994 and has saved over 18 million plastic bags from the landfill.

“SACASA is so grateful to benefit from the generosity of Buffalo Exchange shoppers,” said SACASA director Katlyn Monje. “We have a lot of work to do, and the donations and awareness this partnership brings will undoubtedly support these important efforts and local survivors of sexual violence,” she added.

The money raised will be utilized to enhance vital services such as advocacy, medical forensic evaluation and recovery services while promoting awareness and prevention of sexual violence. SACASA provides a safe place for survivors to heal.

The work SACASA does is essential to the community,” says Buffalo Exchange Vice President Rebecca Block. “We’re honored to support their mission through our Tokens for Bags program and we look forward to seeing how our contribution can make a difference.”

About Buffalo Exchange
Buffalo Exchange is a family-owned and operated fashion retailer founded in 1974. With locations across the United States, Buffalo Exchange is known for its unique selection of trendy and vintage clothing, as well as its commitment to reducing clothing waste and supporting local communities.