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The I Am Vanessa Guillén Act would reform the way the military responds to reports of sexual assault and harrassment.
The I Am Vanessa Guillén Act would reform the way the military responds to reports of sexual assault and harassment. Photo: Twitter-U.S. Army

I am Vanessa Guillén Act is reintroduced in Congress

Reps. Sylvia Garcia, Veronica Escobar continue their push for justice for Vanessa Guillén.

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Vanessa Guillén, a soldier stationed at Fort Hood, Texas, was last alive more than a year ago. Now, her family has been left to grieve a lost daughter, a big sister, a soldier, and while left without answers, have been advocating for military reform at the highest level. 

Guillén disappeared from the base on April 22 at the age of 20. Her body was found on the outskirts of Killeen, TX on June 30. The main suspect in her death, Specialist Aaron Robinson, killed himself on July 1 as police were attempting to take him into custody.

Ever since Guillén’s tragedy became known nationwide, Rep. Sylvia Garcia (D-TX) has pledged to seek justice for Vanessa, her family, and her constituents.

Now that the Congressional Investigation has been launched, Rep. Garcia is still seeking justice for Vanessa’s family to directly address the toxic environment of sexual harassment and unsafe conditions that led to the deaths of Guillén, and many others.  

Her death was one of at least 25 connected to Fort Hood in 2020 alone.

Now over a year since SPC Guillén first disappeared from Fort Hood, the bipartisan I Am Vanessa Guillén Act is being reintroduced to Congress. 

On May 13, she was joined by Reps. Jackie Spier, chair of the House Armed Services Military Personnel Subcommittee, who has been advocating for military reform for years, Veronica Escobar (D-TX), Jason Crow (D-CO) and others. 

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and House Armed Services Committee Chairman Adam Smith also joined the press briefing for the bipartisan I Am Vanessa Guillén Act. 

Senator Mazie K. Hirono (D-HI) introduced companion legislation in the Senate.
 

Since Guillén’s murder, an investigation was launched by an independent review committee that recommended 70 different changes at Fort Hood. At least 14 Fort Hood personnel have been fired or suspended for enabling a culture of sexual assault and violence at the U.S. Army base. 

When Rep. Spier visited the base on May 6, she said “the vast majority” of the recommended changes had been implemented. 

“In honor of the late SPC Vanessa Guillén and the many survivors of military sexual violence who have bravely come forward in the wake of her brutal murder to shine a light on the abuse, retaliation, and discrimination they’ve suffered.” Spier wrote in a press release on the legislation.  

Guillén’s family, for months, has been vocal about the barriers they fought in order to scratch the surface of truth regarding Vanessa’s death, protesting against the lack of transparency, accountability, and action. Her sisters also took to the podium on the afternoon of May 13. 

“Just to think that Vanessa cost all this movement, cost all this change. It deeply saddens me because she is not here with us.” Mayra Guillén said. 

“My sister was brutally murdered and sexually harassed and we must fight against that because we don’t want another I am Vanessa Guillén out there,” Lupe Guillén said following her sister. 

The act would change the way the military response to reports to sexual harrasment and sexual assault by making sexual harassment a standalone offense within the Uniform Code of Military Justice, and moving prosecution decisions of sexual assault and sexual harassment cases out of the chain of command.

It would also establish a process for compensating servicemembers who survive sexual violence when the military has been negligent, and reforming the Army’s Sexual Harassment/Assault Response and Prevention (SHARP) program. 

Specifically, the I am Vanessa Guillén Act would:

  • Move prosecution decisions on sexual assault and sexual harassment cases outside of the chain of command to an Office of the Chief Prosecutor within each military service;
  • Create a standalone military offense for sexual harassment;
  • Establish trained sexual harassment investigators who are outside of the chain of command of the complainant and the accused;
  • Require both DoD and GAO to conduct separate evaluations of the military services’ Sexual Harassment/Assault Response and Prevention (SHARP) programs;
  • Reform and professionalize the Army’s SHARP program by establishing civilian leadership and ensuring that victim advocates and sexual assault response coordinators are full-time positions and report to an independent chain of command; and
  • Establish a process by which servicemembers can make claims for negligence and seek compensatory damages against DoD in the case of sexual assault or sexual harassment.
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