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 Together, we can continue to create a safer, more supportive community for people impacted by sexual violence.

With nine years of dedication to CODAC, Liliana H. has made significant contributions to the community, especially in supporting survivors of sexual assault.

Liliana's career at CODAC began as a childcare worker at the residential treatment program for women with substance use disorders. As the first employee in the childcare role, she quickly realized her passion for supporting children and women.

Originally from Mexico, Liliana faced the challenge of adapting to a new country without English fluency. Her determination led her to learn the language with the help of the children she cared for, through singing songs and interactive experiences.

Liliana was able to transfer credits from her college in Hermosillo to Grand Canyon University where she pursued studies in social work. Her dedication and educational pursuits resulted in a well-deserved promotion to the role of recovery coach before she transitioned to the Southern Arizona Center Against Sexual Assault (SACASA) as a crisis advocate in 2017.

Liliana, senior crisis advocate at SACASA.

SACASA’s crisis advocates hold unique roles within CODAC. They are trained to provide crisis intervention and support following a sexual assault. Advocates answer crisis calls and respond to the hospital to support people to understand their medical and legal options as well as offer compassionate emotional support. Additionally, they support survivors in navigating interviews with law enforcement and in obtaining compensation for victimization.

Now with a master’s degree in behavioral health, Liliana has been promoted to senior crisis advocate where she also provides supervisory and administrative support. Liliana understands the unpredictable nature of this work and the importance of being ready for any call that comes her way. Regardless of the circumstances, she approaches each situation with patience, empathy and understanding.

“There are times when the person on the other end of the line is angry and yelling. I know that it’s not towards me and that they are dealing with a lot,” she said.

Liliana and the SACASA team work with diverse individuals, including undocumented immigrants, a topic she is passionate about.

She shared a story about a young Guatemalan girl who had been sexually assaulted while in the United States. After reporting the assault, the girl was detained by immigration authorities.   SACASA responded at the hospital to support the victim and through advocacy and collaboration with the Guatemalan consulate, she was able to return to the U.S. to live with her sister.

“We sometimes don’t know what happens to people after we work with them. I felt so relieved knowing she was here,” said Liliana.

This experience highlights the profound impact her work can have on the lives of survivors and emphasizes the extensive collaborative network that SACASA facilitates.

Liliana has played a vital role in bridging language barriers and providing support to the Hispanic community, where sexual violence is a prevalent issue. According to the Office for Victims of Crime, an estimated 10.8 million females of Hispanic origin will experience some form of sexual violence by year 2050.

For five years, she was the only Spanish-speaking advocate at SACASA. Overcoming the language barrier as a non-native English speaker has also been a personal challenge for Liliana. However, she has always felt supported by her coworkers as she continues to learn and improve her language skills.

Addressing misconceptions about sexual assault and its prevalence in the community is another important aspect of Liliana's work.

“So many people don’t think this is a problem. They don't know that sexual assault doesn't discriminate and that it can and does affect many people."

Liliana H.

Liliana urges individuals to be supportive and informed about the available options for survivors, emphasizing that sexual assault is an ongoing issue, occurring approximately every 68 seconds.

For those aspiring to enter this field, Liliana advises cultivating compassion and understanding, recognizing that each survivor's experience is unique. Liliana appreciates the support she receives from CODAC, expressing gratitude for the organization's commitment to her growth and advancement within the organization.

Outside of work, Liliana cherishes time with her family; they are the most important part of her life. She also finds joy in music and comedy, allowing herself moments of laughter and relaxation.