WASHINGTON, D.C. - It's been two years since the death of Fort Hood Spc Vanessa Guillén and a bipartisan group of lawmakers, including several from Texas, is introducing more legislation to protect soldiers in Vanessa's name.
Guillén was killed on post by a fellow soldier two years ago and her family says she was being sexually harassed. Since then, the Guillén family has been fighting for military reform.
Parts of the "I am Vanessa Guillén" Act were included in the 2022 National Defense Authorization Act which pulled sexual assault crimes out of the military's chain of command to be pursued by independent prosecutors. However, the lawmakers also wants sexual harassment investigations to be given to independent prosecutors, which was not included in the NDAA.
The group introduced into the US House the Sexual Harassment Independent Investigations and Prosecutions (SHIIP) Act to remove sexual harassment from the military chain of command and a companion legislation was introduced in the US Senate.
The lawmakers in support of this legislation include:
- U.S. Rep Jackie Speier (D-CA), Chair of the Armed Services Subcommittee on Military Personnel and Co-Chair of the Democratic Women’s Caucus
- U.S. Rep Markwayne Mullin (R-OK)
- U.S. Rep Veronica Escobar (D-TX)
- U.S. Rep Troy Balderson (R-OH)
- U.S. Rep Sylvia Garcia (D-TX)
- U.S. Rep Tony Gonzales (R-TX)
- U.S. Rep Anthony Brown (D-MD)
- U.S. Sen. Mazie Hirono (D-HI), Chair of the Senate Armed Services Subcommittee on Seapower
The SHIIP Act is also supported by the Guillén family.
"Today marks the two-year anniversary of SPC Vanessa Guillén's horrible death. Vanessa proudly served our country yet she was denied justice," said Vanessa's sister Mayra Guillén in a release. "The SHIIP Act is vital to protecting soldiers and would have saved Vanessa’s life. The passage of the SHIIP Act will be a form of justice and honor for my sister Vanessa Guillén."
Specifically, the SHIIP Act extends protections against sexual harassment and would:
- Move prosecutorial decisions for sexual harassment from commanders to the new special trial counsel, created by the FY22 NDAA, so that independent military attorneys decide which sex-related offenses go to court-martial, and
- Require that the new, independent sexual harassment investigators created by the FY22 NDAA are outside the chain of command of the victim and the subject and are trained in investigating sexual harassment.
The SHIIP Act is also supported by the following organizations: Protect Our Defenders, Service Women's Action Network, Modern Military Association of America, Never Alone Advocacy, and Red, White and Bruised.
WHO IS VANESSA GUILLÉN?
On June 30, partial human remains were found close to the Leon River in Bell County in Texas, an area of interest in the search for Guillen. More remains were found in another shallow grave on July 1 and the remains were later identified to be Guillen's.
According to an affidavit, the Fort Hood specialist was bludgeoned to death by fellow Spc Aaron Robinson who later killed himself. Robinson's girlfriend Cecily Aguilar was arrested after she confessed to helping Robinson bury Guillen's body.
WHAT IS THE "I AM VANESSA GUILLÉN" BILL?
The "I Am Vanessa Guillen" act was introduced on Capitol Hill in 2020. The bill aims to help military members report instances of sexual abuse or harassment without fear of retaliation along the chain of command.
Under the bill named after Guillen and sponsored by U.S. Rep Garcia, it would allow for an independent prosecutor to investigate cases of sexual violence.
Sexual harassment and assault would both be made a crime within the uniform code of military justice. Currently, cases of sexual harassment are addressed through administrative sanctions.
"The #IAmVanessaGuillen bill would help our men and women in the armed forces because they're the ones putting their lives at risk. They say protect our protectors. They deserve to be respected, to be heard, and to be honored, just like Vanessa," said Lupe Guillen.
The bill has garnered bipartisan support and sponsors say it will help to reduce a victim's fear in coming forward. The Guillen family also met with former President Donald Trump in 2020 to discuss the bill.
IMPACT OF VANESSA GUILLÉN'S DEATH
Guillén's disappearance and death were the first in a spate of missing and slain soldiers that have plagued the base. Multiple investigations into the "command climate and culture" have been launched following allegations of rampant sexual harassment and abuse.
The Army fired or suspended 14 officers and enlisted soldiers after an investigation into soldier safety and well-being at Fort Hood. The investigation was sparked by the death of Guillen as well as several other soldiers on post.
The Army also ordered policy changes to address chronic leadership failures at the base that contributed to a widespread pattern of violence including murder, sexual assaults, and harassment.
A five-person expert committee was formed to look into the climate and culture both on and off post. As part of the Operation People First initiative, the committee visited post from late August through mid-September.
After Guillén's death, murals have been painted and marches have been held to help keep her memory alive.
Filiberto Mendieta worked on a Southeast Austin mural with help from artist Arturo Silva in July 2020.