Offices across the federal government remain shuttered for a second week, but doors remain open to victims of sexual assault in the military amid the estimated 26,000 incidents that occur throughout the system each year.
The Sexual Assault Prevention and Response Office (SAPRO) is based within the Pentagon, coordinating similar activities throughout the military’s branches. Though funding has expired for the vast majority of the government, many of the Defense Department’s programs remain up and running as “essential,” or “approved” in the preferred jargon. And it seems that the Pentagon has determined that the men and women who work one-on-one with victims are, in fact, essential to the military’s efforts.
“Our staff is affected by the Government shutdown like most DoD program offices, but military and contracted support remain on duty,” the SAPRO website currently reads. It also informs that its services remain available to soldiers, as its email inbox and phone lines remain manned. “Victim services available through the DoD Safe Helpline are uninterrupted at SafeHelpline.org,” it continues.
As the shutdown appeared imminent last week, Congress passed the Pay Our Military Act (POMA) to ensure active duty troops continued to receive pay while the government was closed. An analysis of the law led the Pentagon to conclude that it had the authority to bring back approximately half of its furloughed civilian staffers on Monday. “Some of the civilian employees who dealt with policy issues at the Office of the Secretary of Defense-level were on furlough last week, however were brought back this week in light of the updated guidance on POMA issued Saturday,” Pentagon spokeswoman Lt. Col. Catherine Wilkinson told ThinkProgress.
Training seminars and other activities to help educate the armed forces about sexual assault have also apparently continued apace. “The SAPR office reported that there haven’t been any delays or cancellations due to the furlough of some of the non-excepted policy-related employees last week,” Wilkinson confirmed to ThinkProgress.
Earlier this year, the media found an increased interest in SAPRO’s activities as a series of stories of assault by members of the armed services made their way into the public. The issue became so pronounced that President Obama himself deemed that the crisis was “an outrage” and said soldiers who rape are “betraying the uniform that they’re wearing.” Since then, several actions have occurred throughout the military to tackle the issue, including Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel ordering every one of the military’s sexual assault respondents retrained.
Not every area of government dealing with assault remains as lucky as the military, however. Department of Education investigations into assaults on college campuses, for example, have been forced to be put on hold while the government is closed.