With the anniversary of Spc. Vanessa Guillen’s death just two days away, the slain Fort Hood soldier’s two sisters traveled Tuesday to Austin, Texas, to continue fighting for laws meant to protect military members from sexual abuse.
Speaking from inside the Capitol, Lupe Guillen, a 17-year-old Houston native and the youngest of the three Guillen sisters, said that instead of mourning her sister Vanessa privately, she wants to continue being outspoken during this heartbreaking week to help prevent other families from feeling the same pain.
The Guillen family has alleged that the 20-year-old soldier was sexually harassed by multiple soldiers at Fort Hood before she was killed last year. Those same allegations sparked the “I Am Vanessa Guillen” movement online, in which hundreds of military members openly shared their experiences with sexual assault within their ranks.
“I wish every family member out there will fight the same fight that we are today because in two days, in two days, it’s one year,” Lupe Guillen said. “My frustration, my anger is the same because it’s not fair my sister was murdered the way she was. She had to be murdered for everyone to realized all of these issues. This has happened for decades.”
What happened to Vanessa Guillen?
Authorities suspect a fellow Fort Hood soldier, Spc. Aaron Robinson, beat Guillen to death with a hammer on post the morning of April 22, 2020. Robinson fatally shot himself July 1 as authorities tried to question him just hours after Guillen’s remains were found near the Leon River in Bell County, according to Killeen police.
An independent investigation into Fort Hood last year revealed that leaders created a permissive environment that allowed for a culture of crimes to exist at the Central Texas military installation, especially sexual assault.
As of now, sexual assault cases are investigated by someone in a victim’s direct chain of command. Many say this process is problematic because the investigators almost always have a direct connection with both the suspect and the victim.
Under a new bill called the I Am Vanessa Guillen Act, those not in a victim’s direct chain of command would be allowed to investigate cases of sexual assault and sexual harassment within the military.
The hope is that the legislation would encourage more victims to come forward without fear of retaliation from their superiors, while also helping lead to more prosecutions because the outside party would not have the biases of someone in the suspect’s and victim’s chain of command.
On Wednesday, the Texas House is going to take up House Concurrent Resolution 51, “urging the United States Congress to pass the I Am Vanessa Guillen Act.”
A Texas Senate committee will also hold a hearing Wednesday on its version of the resolution. If the committee decides to approve the resolution, it will go to the full Senate for consideration.
“For a year, our community has been calling for change,” state Rep. Christina Morales, D-Houston, said Tuesday. “For a year, Spc. Vanessa Guillen’s family has been calling for change. Our community is strong and our resilience unwavering. We will not stop calling, marching and mobilizing until there is real change. We will always remember Vanessa Guillen.”
Texas lawmakers are considering legislation to memorialize Guillen. Included in those bills is a measure that would name part of a highway after her and designate Sept. 30, Guillen’s birthday, as Vanessa Guillen Day in Texas.
The Guillen family will travel to Washington on Thursday to continue urging lawmakers to vote in favor of the I Am Vanessa Guillen Act. In honor of the anniversary of the soldier’s death, her relatives will hold a candlelight vigil in D.C. on Thursday evening.
“What I realized yesterday is that it’s not only the Army’s job to fix this issue, but it’s our job as the people, as someone who is here today alive and in spirit, to speak up about this issue,” said Lupe Guillen, who on Monday was at Fort Hood for a ceremony to name a gate in her sister’s honor. “And for Congress, the Senate, and the president of the United States, it’s their job as well because these legislations that are presented should pass with no doubt. The same goes for the I Am Vanessa Guillen Act.”
(c) 2021 Austin American-Statesman
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