Congressman Ted Deutch Tours The Butterfly House

Congressman Ted Deutch (D-District 21) was taken on a tour of the Butterfly House at Wellington Regional Medical Center on Friday, March 21.

Butterfly House is a dedicated forensic exam site for survivors of sexual assault. It is located in a separate room adjacent to the hospital’s emergency room.

Deutch’s tour was led by officials from Palm Beach County Victim Services.

At Butterfly House, evidence is collected thoroughly by specially trained sexual assault nurse examiners. Survivors have access to state-of-the-art medical treatment, if needed, next door at the ER.

“We are mobile, and we have nurses who can go anywhere throughout the hospital,” said Carol Messam-Gordon, team supervisor for the certified rape crisis center. “Butterfly House is our forensic exam site… Our rape victims can get any kind of medication they need. This is a project that we want to make sure continues, because our victims are being served.”

Sexual Assault Response Team (SART) Coordinator Nicole O’Brien said the team does everything from evidence collection to basic first aid before going to the emergency room.

“We take photographs for crime scene, as well as document any injuries that we find,” she said. “We document all of this evidence, which goes to the crime lab. Since we actually have [sexual assault nurse examiners] now, we have found that evidence collection has improved so much… Our crime lab has actually seen more DNA profiles of better quality, compared to what it used to be.”

O’Brien travels to emergency rooms and other agencies throughout the county to provide information on how to conduct the exams. “The results are really amazing when we do it together,” she said.

Messam-Gordon said that in having the same nurses trained to do the forensic exam and prepare a rape kit, they have a step-by-step process they follow.

“Crime lab is part of our Sexual Assault Response Team, so we meet monthly to make sure that we fine-tune this process,” she said. “Because we are so highly trained, we have more evidence collected and we have more successful prosecution for our rape victims.”

The Palm Beach County State Attorney’s Office also works with SART nurses to prepare them for testimony during trials. “We are so fortunate to have the support from the hospital and from the legislators to have this,” Messam-Gordon said.

She added that an advocate is assigned to each victim. “A rape exam is not done without an advocate present,” Messam-Gordon said. “The advocate follows the victim from the time she reports, or if she doesn’t want to report, throughout the whole process, to sit in on the forensic process and make sure that she knows what happens with her kit, and follows her through the criminal justice process.”

All services the victim receives are free, including therapy. Since the rape crisis center is operated by Palm Beach County Victim Services, it is autonomous from other agencies, including law enforcement.

“Because we are independent, we have the flexibility to go anywhere,” Messam-Gordon said. “In Florida, we are unique in that we can provide ongoing services for that victim and follow that victim, and not report to law enforcement if that victim does not want to.”

Butterfly House is available to sexual assault survivors by calling a 24-hour rape crisis hotline at (561) 833-7273.

Law enforcement officers will transport the victim to Butterfly House, where they are met by an advocate and a nurse examiner for a forensic exam in a private room. She, or he, is able to shower afterward and put on clean clothes. The survivor, with the victim advocate, is then able to sit with a detective and describe what happened, all in one safe, comfortable location.

In 2013, the project received $282,039 through a 2011 Florida legislative act, with revenue administered by the Florida Department of Health to finance two advocates, one licensed therapist, a coordinator for the nurse examiners and standby pay for those nurses, as well as other costs associated with Butterfly House.

Last year, service was provided for 455 victims of sexual assault, which included criminal justice advocacy, accompaniment, crisis stabilization, medical follow-up, information and referral, support groups and therapeutic treatment. On-call nurse examiners responded to 221 calls and performed 201 sexual assault forensic exams.

For more information about Butterfly House and Palm Beach County Victim Services, call (561) 625-2568.
ABOVE: SART Coordinator Nicole O’Brien explains the Butterfly House to Congressman Ted Deutch and others touring the facility.