Update, Dec. 27, 2021:
President Joe Biden signed into law the $770 billion National Defense Authorization Act for 2022, a defense spending bill which included portions of the “I Am Vanessa Guillen” Act”. The act authorizes a five percent increase in military spending and addresses issues including how service members are tried for crimes they commit while serving. New regulations will include sexual harassment as a standalone offense punishable under Article 134 of the UCMJ which covers sexual misconduct.
“I should be happy but thinking of everything we’ve been through… it feels unreal to finally see it happen. Very proud yet very sad,” Mayra Guillen, Vanessa’s older sister tweeted following the announcement.
Almost two years after Army Spc. Vanessa Guillén, 20, was found dead near her army base Fort Hood, the ‘I Am Vanessa Guillén Act’ finally passed in Senate on December 15. Guillén first went missing in April 2020 after she was last seen in Fort Hood and her family voiced their concerns after they didn’t hear from her, sparking an investigation. Two months later, her remains were found near the Leon River in Texas not far from the base. She was allegedly beaten to death by Army Spc. Aaron David Robinson, who later dismembered and burned her body with the help of his girlfriend Cecily Aguilar. Robinson died by suicide after police set out to arrest him and Aguilar was arrested and indicted on 11 counts including two counts of attempting to dispose of her body.
Guillén’s murder sparked national outrage, especially after her mother revealed that Guillén had reported previous incidents of sexual harassment to superiors without investigation. Since then, her family has been at the forefront of several impactful changes for survivors of sexual harassment.
In January 2021, her entire chain of command was fired and in April, Fort Hood dedicated a commemorative gate and memorial plaque to honor Guillén’s legacy and memory. Her family also gave exclusive interviews in Telemundo’s podcast series, Fort Hood: The Vanessa Guillén Case, which explores the history of the base, her murder, and the aftermath.
“This is a consequential story that touches on critical issues in our country,” Telemundo Network News president Luis Fernandez said, according to Deadline.
The family’s initiative, the ‘I Am Vanessa Guillén Act’, was first passed in Texas this September to create a sexual harassment prevention and response program for the Texas Military Department. With the support of the House and Senate, the bipartisan bill is now headed to the desk of President Biden. If signed into law, the act would make historic changes to the military’s protocol for investigating and prosecuting cases of sexual harassment on a federal level.
Each branch of the military would create a special office dedicated to sexual harassment cases. This office would appoint independent professional investigators rather than keeping it within the chain of command, notify survivors of the outcome of investigations, and require the Department of Defense to investigate possible acts of retaliation from alleged harassers and abusers. As a whole, the act would treat and investigate harassment as a punishable offense.
“The whole thing doesn’t feel real to me ever since my sister passed away,” Guillén’s sister Mayra said in response, according to Newsy. “But I’m proud of the work that we’ve done. And I’m very thankful that our voices are being heard and my sister’s being honored in the best way possible.”