The government shutdown, which has now stretched on for nearly a week, is preventing the U.S. Department of Education from continuing to work on sexual assault investigations into college campuses across the country.
A spokesperson for the agency told the Huffington Post that the investigations conducted by the Office for Civil Rights — the division that handles formal complaints about universities’ sexual assault polices and addresses potential gender discrimination — are “not an excepted activity” under the shutdown. They’ll be suspended until the government re-opens.
On a practical level, that means that government officials aren’t in contact with the students who filed formal complaints against their universities. If complainants attempt to reach out to the investigator who’s handling their case, they’re told that person isn’t currently working. And Department of Education employees are also unable to conduct any follow-up reviews for the colleges whose cases have recently been settled. Officials have been forced to cancel site visits to campuses, which are intended to make sure they’re adhering to the terms of the settlement agreement.
The issue of sexual assault on college campuses has made headlines over the past year, as student activists have joined forced to file a rush of federal complaints to hold their universities accountable for failing to take rape cases seriously. Under many colleges’ lenient sexual assault policies, serial rapists are able to evade punishment. U.S. Department of Education investigations are typically initiated after students or faculty allege their university is violating Title IX and the Clery Act, federal laws that require colleges to combat gender-based violence and accurately report the number of sexual assaults that occur on campus.
Before the government ground to a halt, formal investigations were underway at a number of schools, including the University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill, Occidental College, Swarthmore College, and the University of California, Berkeley. And reviews were still ongoing at several additional universities, including Yale and Dartmouth.
It’s not the only way that the current shutdown is having an impact on survivors of domestic violence. Rape crisis centers across the country stopped receiving federal funds on Friday, since the government is no longer able to distribute the funding that’s appropriated under the Violence Against Women Act. And that’s on top of the deep cuts that domestic violence programs already faced under sequestration.