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Vanessa Guillen’s story sparks long ignored battles of women in the military

On July 29, the House Subcommittee on Military Personnel held a hearing titled: “The Military’s #MeToo Movement: An examination of Sexual Harassment and…

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The hearing centered around sexual assault challenged officials on a variety of questions around sexual harassment, sexual assault, and what could be done to create a safer environment in the military for women. 

This is not a an issue that has just surfaced, but outrage towards it was reignited after the murder of Vanessa Guillen, which created waves in the military for victims to finally speak up about their abuse during their time in the service.

Colonel Patrick Wempe, who took part in the panel interviewed by the committee extended his condolences to Guillen and her family. 

“As a soldier and as a father, I cannot fathom the acute sorrow and grief that they are feeling over the loss of their daughter and sister. What happened to Vanessa is tragic and should never happen to a daughter, sister, and soldier,” he said.

Congresswoman Jackie Speier, appointed chairwoman of the House Armed Service Subcommittee on Military Personnel then opened the floor to the testimony, grilled another member of the panel, Dr. Nate Galbreath, the Deputy Director of Sexual Assault Prevention and Response Office about the military’s disregard for a worsening sexual harassment record.

Galbreath had brought military data to back up Speier’s claims. 

“So if you look at the data it hasn’t gotten better. You, I fear, plucked the watermark, to make the case that somehow doing better when in fact we aren’t doing any better,” said Speier.

Dr. Galbreath responded arguing the that the sexual assault claims had decreased over more than a decade, but the sexual harassment claims had no such decrease. . 

“The data that I was citing in my prepared statement were for rates of sexual assault over the past 14 years, and we have seen decreases in the prevalence of those,” said Galbreath. “But you’re absolutely right, there is no decrease in the prevalence of sexual harassment that we’ve seen over time.”

When  asked by Congresswoman Veronica Escobar in the hearing about reporting on sexual assault and sexual harassment cases, Wempe cited more statistics on the likelihood of reporting incidents at Fort Hood, where Guillen was stationed. 

He reported that during the internal investigation, 86% of the soldier in Fort Hood said they would report an assault, however, Escobar pointed out that on the whole, only 50% reported of those who experienced assault in the last year actually reported it. 

Wempe also argued t that what the military performed at Fort Hood was an inspection rather than investigation which are “two different things in the IG [Inspector General] realm.” 

He added that the inspection reflects those numbers in a misleading way because it was “such a small sample size for those who had been assaulted. There were four in that survey group that had been assaulted and two of those had reported.” 

In 1948, President Harry Truman had signed the Women’s Armed Services Integration Act into law. This allowed women to participate in all the branches of the military. Women have long fought for equality: equal pay, voting rights, a voice in the community, and in politics. 

But in every facet of our fight, we have seen barriers by men and what happened to Vanessa Guillen is one of many of the potential dangers of fighting those barriers in the military and elsewhere.

We are seen as objects that can be disrespected. We are held to a lower standard, and therefore ignored until outrage ensues and those can no longer look away. Why? 

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