Shutdown Jeopardizes Help For Sexual Assault Victims

Jan 17, 2019

As the government shutdown stretches on, it may begin to affect how communities are able to help victims of sexual assault.

The $3.2 billion the Department of Justice sets aside via its Office of Victim Advocacy includes the largest single source of money for supporting women who have been victims of sexual assault. However, when the last of the money funding federal government programs gets spent this week, managers of Office of Victim Advocacy funds will be idled.


Among other things, that means a pause of money flowing to organizations who help women with the aftermath of sexual or domestic abuse.

In Macon, the Crisis Line and Safe House is already looking at $330,000 in unreimbursed expenses dating back to October 2018 and has taken out a $100,000 line of credit.

Dee Simms is the executive director of the Crisis Line and Safe House. She said if the shutdown lasts past Friday, the group will have to make very tough decisions. She said the safe house will stay open, but people who work directly with sexual assault victims may be furloughed.

“You're talking about someone that is there during the rape kit collection of evidence,” Simms said. “Someone who is there to hold their hand, explain to them their rights.”

Around the state, managers of the Ruth’s Cottage shelter for victims of domestic violence in Tifton say they have enough money in the bank to ensure operation, but that they, too, may have to look at curtailing counseling services if the shutdown lasts another month.

In Columbus, Lindsey Reis, executive director of the Hope Harbour shelter, said that organization has worked for years to build emergency reserves. They can hold on for a two months without federal reimbursement without resorting to furloughs.

“I know a lot of that is going on, it just hasn’t happened here yet,” Reis said.

Still, Reis said she has considered what they might have to do if the shutdown stretch into the Spring. Like Dee Simms in Macon, Reis said the women’s shelter has to stay open no matter what, but there might have to be cuts in counseling and advocacy.

The 15-year-old Violence Against Women Act had been the other major source of federal money for sexual assault victims. The last Congress did not reauthorize that money in 2018.

Back in Macon, Dee Simms said she is accepting donations, for which the local district attorney has pledged some matching funds, for the Crisis Line and Safe House.