Government Shutdown Is Putting Sexual Assault Survivors 'at Risk,' Advocates Warn

Advocates against sexual assault have called for an "immediate end" to the ongoing partial government shutdown, which has lasted nearly three weeks, warning that the federal closures could put sexual assault survivors at risk.

"In the wake of the #MeToo movement, demand for sexual assault services has skyrocketed, as a result of increased national attention on the issue of sexual assault," Terri Poore, policy director at Raliance, a national partnership dedicated to ending sexual violence, said in a statement on Thursday.

Read more: Senators sponsor bills to stop Congres spay during government shutdown

The policy director warned that because rape crisis centers "rely on federal funding through the Department of Justice to keep their doors open and pay their advocates, thousands of whom would face the prospect of losing their jobs without this important funding, a prolonged shutdown could imperil key programs that provide lifesaving services in their communities."

As the Georgetown Law Center on Poverty and Inequality recently pointed out, the partial government shutdown has already "delayed or halted funding for key programs and laws," including the Violence Against Women Act (VAWA), which supports survivors of sexual assault and domestic violence.

VAWA, which was first passed in 1994, expired when the government shut down on December 22, after President Donald Trump refused to sign a spending bill that didn't include $5.6 billion to construct his long-promised border wall.

While programs that have already received funding from grants would continue, according to The Washington Post, the shutdown will cause a delay in the processing of payment requests for some programs funded by the VAWA.

"Even before the shutdown, over half of programs already had a waiting list for counseling services, and every day the government remains closed, increases the danger that survivors won't be able to access the services they need," Poore said.

"#MeToo has made abundantly clear that survivors of sexual violence deserve to be taken seriously, not used as a bargaining chip," she said. "Congress must act now to end the shutdown, and the president must sign a budget. Survivors' lives depend on it."

As the shutdown approaches its third week, neither Trump nor Democratic leaders appear willing to bend, with the U.S. leader threatening to declare a national emergency in order to sidestep Congress and obtain funding for his border wall.

On Wednesday, the U.S. leader said he was still considering the possibility of going that route, a move that many have warned could set a dangerous precedent.

Activists participate in the 2018 #MeToo March on November 10, 2018, in Hollywood, California. Advocates against sexual assault warned that the partial government shutdown could put sexual assault survivors at risk. Sarah Morris/Getty