Family of Vanessa Guillen suing US government for $35 million in damages

The family of Houston native Vanessa Guillen has filed a lawsuit against the U.S. Government asking for $35 million in damages. The lawsuit follows a Thursday decision from the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals that previously barred military service members to sue for sexual assault.

On behalf of the Guillen family, Vanessa’s older sister, Mayra, outlined in court documents, the excruciating details of the sexual abuse Vanessa endured while serving with at U.S. army base in Fort Hood, Texas. Mayra claims military leaders did nothing to protect the then 20-year-old.

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"I feel like they would only act and put harsher punishments or, in reality, provide the accountability needed once they see that money is involved. And that's the sad truth," said Mayra.  

"They thought it was okay to torment her, harass her, stalk her, and continue with that behavior for about a year and a half, and eventually leading her to having suicidal thoughts that she had only talked to me about," Mayra said. 

The lawsuit was filed Friday under the Federal Torts Claims Act. It says that Vanessa Guillen suffered from mental anguish, emotional distress, physical injury and eventually died as a result of that continued rape and abuse from fellow service members.  

"Finally, the Ninth Circuit has held that sexual assault is not incident to service and thereby victims of sexual assault can pursue a lawsuit against the government, if they were victims of sexual assault while serving," attorney Natalie Khawam said.


"Is it because that Vanessa chose to serve our country that she's less of a human being than someone who is a gymnast that was assaulted, or someone that was a massage therapist, or someone that was an actress?" Khawam continued. 

Authorities say Vanessa went missing in April 2020. Her body was found two months later dismembered and burned. 

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Her case has sparked national attention and motivated other victims in the military to speak their truth. 

"The law should never discriminate against profession or group of individuals and that's what has been happening all along in the history of our country. And that's why you see the sexual assault rates are so high in the military than in any other profession. They deserve some kind of hope, and they deserve some kind of compensation, and they deserve to be made whole," Khawam said. 

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Khawam says the U.S. Government now has up to six months to respond to the lawsuit. 

Another hearing for the criminal portion of Vanessa Guillen's case is scheduled for 10 a.m. Tuesday in Waco.